Plug Your Self In

Given the announcements during 2017 so far from Facebook et al regarding the ability to ‘think’ letters on to a screen and type with our thoughts, is it fair to say that we are now only a hop, skip and a jump away from a form of telepathy, or at least, the domination of text interaction over speech?

Facebook’s brain computer interface or ‘direct brain interface’ has about 12 months of research under its’ belt and their goal is to remove the need for invasive tech (such as the implanted sensor used by a hospital patient in Stanford to type) and have non-invasive, mass-produced devices shipping globally. The social giant are not the only ones with Musks’ startup pushing forward at pace.

The medical goals and benefits are clear, as are the interoperation with augmented and virtual devices, such as Facebook’s own Oculus for example (control your gaming avatar with your mind), but let’s take a minute to consider the cultural and sociological impacts of this technology.

As technologists, we are innately positive about new methods of interaction and world building but we should question the social responsibility of our methods and inventions. Whilst seemingly being a force for good – enhanced, ever-connected communications for the magnificent millennial – instant messaging platforms have, on mass, altered the face of psychology. The immediate response, the waiting for acknowledgement, the blocking…all these implicit behaviours are arguably adding to an increase in social anxieties, exclusionism and moreover, the inability and reluctance to verbally communicate, with social media and IM regularly cited as causes and facilitators of depression and anxiety.

So what happens when the instant messages, photos and augmented-reality cat whiskers start popping up before our very eyes, on glasses connected to a neural interface whereby we can simply think a response to our friends and colleagues?

These steps forward in neural interfacing are clearly as evolutionary and as revolutionary as touch interfaces, mice and joysticks before them, and I for one am looking forward to consider how my mind will interact with the visual interface but let’s take a moment to remember the power and positivity of speech and the physical identity we have cultivated for ourselves.

As VR, AR and MR bed in, we are not far off from the true fluid identity whereby we visualise ourselves and communicate in the virtual World on a level entirely separate from the corporeal; we know we can be whoever we want to be, just ask Catfish, and seemingly, our textual identities are next for added flexibility.