News today that scientists have created a machine that can convert thoughts into speech, with accuracy ranging from 70 to 90%. This is potentially good news for people in a state of paralysis who are not able to communicate by any other means. The bad news however is that it requires invasive surgery: it is reported that part of the patient’s skull was removed and sensors were inserted directly into the brain.
I have been covering the subject of telepathic research in this blog, and what strikes me is the amount of rapid progress that has been made in the course of less than a year. Just earlier this year I noted that a very crude machine-assisted telepathy might be possible through the use of fMRI scanners. This had the disadvantage of only being able to detect general categories of brain-activity (e.g. spatial awareness as opposed to linguistic awareness), but not specific thoughts. The advantage though is that an fMRI scanner is non-invasive – it works through the skull. However the new method is different – by taking an intra- as opposed to extra-cranial approach, scientists allege that they are able to distinguish the brain activity associated with individual words.
The speed of developments is such that we may well see a fully-fledged working version of artificial telepathy by as early as next year – or even sooner.
Unfortunately I have noticed another trend over the past year, as I have been covering the subject: as scientists get closer to developing artificial telepathy, so there are progressively louder cries from the nay-sayers who mention things like “Orwell,” “Big Brother,” “1984” etc. Now I admit it is certainly conceivable, now that it is within the realm of possibility … however instead of making a knee-jerk reaction, I suggest applying the lessons learnt from the invention of the Telephone.
Alexander Graham Bell, when creating the phone, did not stop to consider things like prank calls, nuisance calls, or government / police phone-tapping. However if these had been predicted at the time and people had objected as vehemently as the Orwell-fixated crowd are objecting to telepathic research, Bell would not have been able to complete his work. Yet we have managed to accommodate abuses of the phone system as they have developed: therefore I suggest a similar approach to the emergent field of artificial telepathy.
Hence, what I propose is that instead of banning research altogether, or coming over all civil-liberties and stuff, we institute an “Office for the Regulation of Telepathy” or OfPath for short. Needless to say, for its first director-general we need to appoint someone who sees the benefits of research, but at the same time is alert to the potential dangers – someone who is wise, intelligent, reasonably incorrupt, etc etc. In short – me! Henceforth I shall be campaigning to become the first director-general of OfPath (contributions to my campaign fund can be made by clicking the Alex Sumner Appreciation Fund Button). 😉