Originally posted 13 Feb 21
Our thoughts are private – or at least they were. New breakthroughs in neuroscience and artificial intelligence are changing that assumption, while at the same time inviting new questions around ethics, privacy, and the horizons of brain/computer interaction.
Research published last week from Queen Mary University in London describes an application of a deep neural network that can determine a person’s emotional state by analyzing wireless signals that are used like radar. In this research, participants in the study watched a video while radio signals were sent towards them and measured when they bounced back. Analysis of body movements revealed “hidden” information about an individual’s heart and breathing rates. From these findings, the algorithm can determine one of four basic emotion types: anger, sadness, joy, and pleasure. The researchers proposed this work could help with the management of health and wellbeing and be used to perform tasks like detecting depressive states.
Ahsan Noor Khan, a PhD student and first author of the study, said: “We’re now looking to investigate how we could use low-cost existing systems, such as Wi-Fi routers, to detect emotions of a large number of people gathered, for instance in an office or work environment.” Among other things, this could be useful for HR departments to assess how new policies introduced in a meeting are being received, regardless of what the recipients might say. Outside of an office, police could use this technology to look for emotional changes in a crowd that might lead to violence.
The research team plans to examine public acceptance and ethical concerns around the use of this technology. Such concerns would not be surprising and conjure up a very Orwellian idea of the ‘thought police’ from 1984. In this novel, the thought police watchers are expert at reading people’s faces to ferret out beliefs unsanctioned by the state, though they never mastered learning exactly what a person was thinking.