What to fear
Our expert voices conversation on "When computers merge with our minds."
The realities of brain-computer interfaces are far from the frightening scenarios laid out in science fiction. The potential for improving the human condition far outweighs that for misuse but fears abound.
Fear #1: Can your thoughts be hacked? The short answer is… yes. If the brain signals recorded by the device are streamed to a computer, it's conceivable they could be intercepted. The real question is who would want to? Those signals carry information about how to move the device, period. Your innermost thoughts and secrets are not decoded. Scientists don't know where in the brain your innermost dialogue is occurring or how to read it.
Fear #2: Can someone place thoughts in your head? Yes, and no. Given that some interfaces stimulate the brain and that computers can be hacked, it is theoretically possible for a third party to take control. But it's no different from someone opening a picture on your computer screen for you. What a hacker couldn't do is trick you into thinking the placed perception was natural. Your inner thoughts are safe for now.
The other voices in the conversation:
Sridevi Sarma, biomedical engineer, Johns Hopkins University: How and how much to change the brainAndrew Hires, neurobiologist, University of Southern California: An optical link to the brainSliman Bensmaia, neurobiologist, University of Chicago: The internet inside your mind