Thought-reading patents increasing

Strangely, just a few days after writing my mind-reading post, I see this headline: “Surge in US ‘brain-reading’ patents” in my BBC news feed. (Yes, I read the BBC.) Serendipity? Who knows, the wife thinks I can read minds. Anyway. turns out this is a pretty hot area. The article states that Nielsen (the ratings guys) have 100 patents, and Microsoft is not far behind: “Microsoft holds 89 patents for software that can assess mental states” — no doubt, given all the angst the damn ribbon has caused over the years. Not to mention MS Word style sheets. Neuro tech is going ‘non-medical’ — which means, forget therapeutic applications, companies want to read your mind.

Do you ever wander into the grocery store and stand goggle-eyed at, say, the 15 varieties of Greek yogurt? (BTW, can I get a break from this stuff? Where is the old damn yogurt, anyway? This Greek stuff is like Spackle…thick, viscous, and tastes like chalk.) Nowadays, all the vendor can do to influence you is to pretty up the package (happy Greek lamb prancing through daisies) and buy primo shelf space from the grocer (that’s right, the grocer has sold the shelf…what you pay for the item is becoming immaterial). Imagine in the future, the winning vendor has:

  • Paid to access data the store is gathering by reading the RFID tags in the products you’ve placed in the cart
  • Paid the store for your past purchase history (remember the rewards card you swipe every time?)
  • Paid the store to install a mind-reading sensor in their shelf, so they know how you’re leaning

That third point is not so far-fetched. They’ll be able to determine the image of the package you are staring at, and if it isn’t the happy little Greek lamb but an Icelandic Hair Cow (trust me, Icelandic yogurt is the only stuff worse than Greek), they’ll spurt a scent into the air, flash a holographic ad, or toss all that, reach directly into your mind and nudge you gently towards the happy Lamb Greek spackle-yogurt.

You doubt me, oh skeptical reader? It may be ‘rubbish’ now, but (from aforelinked BBC article) “there are a massive number of neuro-marketing companies that have sprung up in the last few years….they all seek to define their [unique selling point] and intellectual property (ie patents) based on their fancy analysis techniques and claim to measure things like ‘engagement’ or ‘interest’ from EEG signals.”

In the original Bedazzled, the Devil explains to his rube that since the Seven Deadly Sins, the only new evil he’d thought up was Advertising. That was 1967. Since then, the devil has been busy shaping up Marketing to stand up there with the other deadly misadventures we humans get up to..

About H.W. MacNaughton

Technologist and communicator. Into technology, jazz, Formula One, sci-fi and any good writing about real stuff.
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