What is an individual without privacy? Scarcely an individual at all, only a piece of a larger network that eludes identification and yet suppresses us into a singular whole all the same. A human being with no privacy, no interior life that is theirs and theirs alone, could be described, as Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari have said, as a ‘body without organs’. Privacy could be said to be the foundation of individual human being itself, as only the privacy of one’s own thoughts, and one’s exclusive inner life, grants the requisite groundwork to be considered a unique person.
A New York City tech start-up called Ctrl-Labs is working on an electromyography armband, which can read brainwaves, and translate those waves directly into text on a screen, without actually having to type a word yourself. Two experts in neuroscience are behind the project, Dr Patrick Kaifosh and Dr Thomas Reardon, the latter of whom is credited with inventing Internet Explorer. These two know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to pasting human thoughts upon a machine, and making the machine primary and our own identities secondary when it comes to thinking our way through the world.
How often has a Google search replaced actual knowledge we may learn? How soon does all the information in the world become so relative that we feel as if we are inundated with junk data in another dark age?
The destabilizing effects of technology on individuality and selfhood will continue to define the 21st century. Dr. Kaifosh said:
“We are developing systems to connect your neural output to machines as tightly as it is connected to the muscles that control your speech. Just as you don’t think about which muscles you activate when you speak, you won’t have to think about how you communicate text to a computer”.
At last, will all communication dissolve into a single information stream, one perpetual forum or group chat replacing all your private thoughts and ideas? Consider truly the ramifications of what this brainwave software would do. If the thoughts of all those around you can be transmitted in their original spark of purity to a computer screen, then what purpose will fiction serve? How soon until mental images, including our own dreams, can be recorded like films? Who would ever read a book or watch a film if the entire mind is running permanently on a screen for all to see? We are talking about the end of privacy, the end of art, and the emergence of the singular cyborg who thinks with the same device that he uses to communicate.
‘The medium is the message’ wrote Marshall McLuhan, perhaps his most timeless idea. What is the message of a medium that dissolves thought and communication into the same single motion? That privacy and individuality are lesser concerns than speed and efficiency of communication.If the act of thinking is itself already public, and revealed to the world, then the act of thinking is itself just another realm of socially-modified behavior, aimed to make ourselves appear acceptable to the herd. This ought to terrify us, truly, as limited human beings who are already not biologically equipped to live in a digital world. What will become of us when we are cyborgs entirely, thinking and speaking and browsing the web on the same extension of our brain, a wristband or a phone, all integrated eventually into the same port of call?
Do you have anything to hide? Are the intimacies of the mind too secret and beautiful for instant transmission? Well, Facebook and Tesla are both also working on brainwave-reading technology. Elon Musk wishes to plug the mind into a computer, Zuckerberg wishes to end all privacy on Earth.