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Imagine sitting in a room where every individual is able to read every other individual’s mind. Would you lose your mind?
We are living in an age where many of us have already surrendered our personal privacy to online interfaces either knowingly or by deceptive means. As technology continues to advance, we are likely to lose even more of our personal space and identity, unless legislation catches up to keep pace with the transformative changes around us. Nicholas Carr, author of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize finalist The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, went further by claiming that the Internet is having detrimental effects on our brains and cognition. According to him, “We become, neurologically, what we think,” a fact that is in line with studies in the cognitive sciences showing that our thoughts can change and rewire our brains, thus potentially altering or enhancing some of their functions. Albert Einstein was perhaps perceptive of this cognitive norm when he stated, “It is not that I am so smart, it is just that I stay with problems longer.”
The online world we live in is not only altering the personal space around us but is also having an effect on our inner selves. And there is yet more to come! Today, we are moving in new technological directions that can literally “take control” of our minds and brains, whether for good or bad, with machines that can read our brain waves and infer our thoughts . The technology is taking its first steps but is rapidly building up strength. Many valid ethical and legal ramifications will arise in this domain, in addition to questionable practices and applications. One would expect that common sense would prevail, although this can never be taken for granted. To paraphrase Voltaire, sometimes “common sense is not so common.” I will not delve into these issues here. My focus will be on the potential for scientific discoveries and the role our signal processing discipline can play in advancing knowledge.