Headband Telepathy And Robinson's Mindkiller

University of Virginia physicist Stuart Wolf believes that it might be possible to use ultrasonic technology encased in headbands and yamulkes to access information networks. The future that he imagines is somewhat brighter than the vision of science fiction writers like Spider Robinson, who see the potential for a darker future.

Sony has already filed a patent for this kind of device (see Sony Patents Ultrasound Brain Beam Matrix). Elizabeth Boukis, spokeswoman for Sony Electronics, says the work is speculative. "There were not any experiments done," she says. "This particular patent was a prophetic invention. It was based on an inspiration that this may someday be the direction that technology will take us." The application has references to several research papers; one showed in a Galvani-like experiment that ultrasound impulses can affect the excitability of nerves from frogs legs.

Wolf says "The vision is that we don't have a laptop anymore. We don't have a cellphone. We wear it. It's a headband. And instead of having a screen, we have direct coupling into the right side of the brain."

And he is talking about more than video games. It should be possible to access any information stored in any computer in the world. It should be possible to transmit not just ASCII text, but sight, smell, touch, taste and sound as well.

Imagine wearing a thin band of ultrasonic transducers controlled by hypersmart quantum computers, all linked up to a global network with infinite bandwidth. And you thought your iPod was cool.

However, there is a dark side. In his 1982 novel Mindkiller, science fiction author Spider Robinson details the implications of having a device that could record and "dub" copies of human experience, and then send them into another mind.

"Suppose you could give a Hindu peasant the memories of, say, a scientific farmer? Not an account of those memories, translated into words and retranslated into print and retranslated into Hindi - but an actual, experimental memory. What soil looks like and smells like when it is most fruitful. The sound of a correctly tuned engine. The difference between hand-tight and wrench-tight..."
(Read more about Spider Robinson's mindwipe)

But what would happen if just one person or company or government had a monopoly on this technology? Your mind would not be your own. This same theme is explored in Roger Zelazny's 1967 award-winning novel Lord of Light. In that story, expatriates have brought this technology to another world, and imposed it on their descendants. They literally played god, and used it to make reincarnation a working, scientific fact; in the following excerpt, they used the probe-machine to investigate a murder.

It was early morning. Near the pool of the purple lotus, in the Garden of Joys, at the foot of the statue of the blue goddess with the veena, Brahma was located.

The girl who found him first thought him to be resting... she realized that he was not breathing...

She trembled as she awaited the end of the universe. God being dead, she understood that this normally followed... But after a time... she thought it advisable to bring the matter of the imminent Yuga to the attention of someone better suited to cope with it...

Yama operated the machine that probes the mind. He probed thirty-seven subjects, all of whom could have had access to Brahma in his Garden during the entire day prior to his deicide... Of these, eleven were gods or goddesses... none was found to be guilty.

Kubera, the artificer stood at Yama's side, and he regarded the psych-tapes.. Only the Lords of Karma kept up to date life-record tapes on everyone in the Celestial City.

If you go a bit further back, you will find similar technology used in Cordwainer Smith's 1958 story No, No, Not Rogov!; in his story, Stalin requests the development of an espionage machine that could read anyone's thoughts, even at a distance.

Although I enjoy the occasional technological future as much as (or more than) the next person, this is not something that governments or corporations should have.

Read the original article here; thanks to Scott for contacting me about this story.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 7/28/2006)

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