What If Your Employer Could Literally Read Your Mind?

“What if you could type directly from your brain?”

That was the question posed by Facebook executive Regina Dugan at the company’s annual F8 developer conference a few weeks ago. She was referring to a brain-to-text interface that the company is developing, with the goal of being able to type – with no hands – at 100 words per minute (WPM). They have 60 scientists working on it and demonstrated a working model that currently types 8 WPM.

I think the concept is pretty cool and will use it when available. But as a society we’ll really have to think about the privacy ramifications of deploying it.

I’m specifically referring to the workplace. Here’s a possible scenario. Facebook starts selling a device that sits on your head, like a pair of headphones, and plugs into your computer allowing “typing” of 100 WPM. Seeing as how the typing speed for the average person is around 40 WPM, this represents a 150% speed increase. Which means that every company everywhere buys these for their employees.

These same companies have policies that allow managers to see the contents of the employees’ computers. And since the computers are now transcribing much of what the employee is thinking, the employee/company privacy barrier begins to dissolve. This raises many disturbing and ethical dilemmas.

For example, what if the company reads that the employee is thinking about leaving the company? Or is thinking romantic thoughts about the married person in the next cubicle? Or is thinking about selling illegal drugs to fellow employees? I remember seeing some of these issues explored in the movie Minority Report. But that was 15 years ago and the reality was so far away, or so it seemed.

Now the reality is almost here and we’re going to have to figure out how to deal with it. And I’m just talking about the workplace. Imagine when police can use this for interrogations. Or when countries like North Korea can force all citizens to wear (or implant) devices so the state can monitor their thoughts 24/7. It’s not science fiction anymore.

Frank Kenna III
May 16, 2017

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