Thought Crimes: New Technology Can Now Read Your Mind

By Richard Young | Posted January 23, 2024

One of the most famous books of the 20th century is George Orwell’s 1984, a 1949 novel depicting a dystopian vision of what our world might be like under a totalitarian regime. He pictured a political reality in which “Thought Police” use telescreens to monitor citizens for “thoughtcrime”—any deviation from the party line. Wrote Orwell, “Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull.”

Today, we live with facial recognition technology; with security cameras peering over our shoulders the moment we enter a public space; and with computers, tablets, and smartphones that can reveal our locations to third parties and, in some cases, enable them to hear or even see us. Though we’re not living in the world that Orwell envisioned yet, we can only guess what the government already knows about us.

One consolation, however, is that today’s Thought Police cannot access the few cubic centimeters inside our skulls—unless they use BCI, a new “brain-computer interface” that can decode the gist of our thoughts without us uttering a word.

AI Mind Reader

The headline from Vox reads, “Mind-reading technology has arrived,” and the subtitle reads, “An AI-powered ‘brain decoder’ can now read your thoughts with surprising accuracy.”

For the last few years, articles have been written “on neurotechnology with downright Orwellian headlines.” Headlines such as “Facebook is building tech to read your mind” and “Brain-reading tech is coming.”

Well, conspiracy theories aside, that technology is not “coming” but has arrived.

According to a study published in Nature Neuroscience, AI has helped scientists from the University of Texas at Austin “[develop] a technique that can translate people’s brain activity—like the unspoken thoughts swirling through our minds—into actual speech.”

The Vox article said that in the past, scientists and researchers have been able to decode unspoken language—our thoughts—by implanting electrodes directly into a subject’s brain, an invasive process. It was done, however, for patients with extreme medical needs, such as paralysis, who deemed the surgery necessary.

However, with this developing BCI technology, the idea is to read people’s thoughts from outside their heads—and it’s working! Basically, as a subject listens to hours of recorded storytelling, an fMRI machine scans the brain, monitoring for changes in blood flow. Later, the subject is asked to start thinking about something, and the machine, working with an AI program, picks up the brain activity and then decodes it into English sentences. 

Though not perfectly accurate, the translation is still close—and getting closer.

For example, when one participant thought, “Coming down a hill at me on a skateboard and he was going really fast and he stopped just in time,” the decoder translated it like this: “He couldn’t get to me fast enough he drove straight up into my lane and tried to ram me.” 

In principle, this technology is not that hard to understand. Every thought we have is manifested as a physical activity in our brains. Thus, learning to precisely monitor and interpret that physical activity is the key to reading a person’s mind. That’s the idea, anyway.

Though this technology is still in its early stages, the potential for misuse, as with every other technology, is there. Talking about BCI, the journal Nature Neuroscience said, “As brain-computer interfaces should respect mental privacy, we tested whether successful decoding requires subject cooperation and found that subject cooperation is required both to train and to apply the decoder.”

At least for now. As quickly as this technology advances, who knows how it will be used down the road? Just as people can retrieve your credit card data while you walk down the street, imagine a device that could retrieve your thoughts! If that sounds like science fiction, just think about what a “smartphone” would’ve sounded like 25 years ago. 

The Heart’s Meditation

Who of us has not had thoughts that would cause us to blush if displayed on a screen? At least we can keep those thoughts hidden from everyone; that is, everyone but God. The omniscient One knows our thoughts, as the Bible teaches:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14, emphasis added).  

“O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off” (Psalm 139:1, 2, emphasis added).

“Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the hearts” (Proverbs 21:2, emphasis added)

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, … and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, emphasis added).

And what did Jesus Himself say? “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’” (Matthew 5:27, 28). Jesus explained that sin begins in the heart, which means that God can see everything happening there.

Thankfully, God is not like the Thought Police in Orwell’s dark vision of the future. Instead of looking to punish you for your sinful deeds, words, or thoughts, He wants to forgive and cleanse you. If you ask Him, He’ll give you a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), which will change the way you think.

To learn more about how Jesus can change your thoughts, check out our Bible study called “Purity and Power!

Richard Young
Richard Young is a writer for Amazing Facts International and other online and print publications.

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