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Surprising Science

Mind-Reading Helmet Aims to Detect Thought Crimes

An American company is developing applied neuroscience technology that will allow operators to read the thoughts of someone and then perhaps classify them as dangerous. 

What’s the Latest Development?

A private company named Veritas is developing applied neuroscience technology that it hopes will allow the military to tell friend from foe on the battlefield. The technology consists of a motorcycle-like helmet “containing metal brush sensors that will read brain activity as images of, say, bomb specs or Osama bin Laden’s face flash quickly across the inside of the visor.” A spike in brain activity, known as P300, occurs when individuals recognize an image as familiar. “Recognition indicates memory, and memory implies knowledge,” or so the thinking goes. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Besides the technical shortcomings of the budding technologymany people now recognize Osama bin Laden, for example, but that hardly implies intimate knowledge of his dealings—permitting the military or law enforcement to gain access to your thoughts carries heavy moral implications. Orwell’s dystopia naturally comes to mind, where citizens are prosecuted just for thinking of disobeying government protocol. There are other uses for the tool, however. It could save lives by helping soldiers identify dangerous objects, such as a roadside IED, before they would otherwise become consciously aware of what they were looking at. 

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