Mind-Reading Cyber-Criminals

Not too long ago, a company named Emotiv released a device that allows for controlling computer inputs by facial expression, head movement, and even low level thought recognition. The device is known as the EPOC, and it achieves these things through a number of sensors, including sixteen EEG-like attachments that connect to the user’s head. Designers envisioned the ability to control most of the computing experience with mere facial gestures and simple thoughts, such as “right” or “left.” The importance such a device could have for people with disabilities is enormous (when and if it is perfected). Though the potential upside for the future of computing is clear, Popular Science wrote an article detailing a much more sinister use the device could provide for thieves and police alike.

A group of scientists recently published results of an experiment where the off-the-shelf EPOC was used to monitor the P300 signal produced by the brain. The P300 signal is a sign of recognition by the brain; when a person is exposed to a stimulus of significance to them, they will produce a P300 signal. During the experiment, the researchers showed subjects a series of images containing banks and PIN numbers. By monitoring the resulting signals, the researchers were able to greatly narrow down the possibilities of both where the individuals may have banked and what their PIN numbers were. The article continues by explaining the potential uses for lie detection. By introducing stimuli to a suspect, the method could be used to determine whether a person has knowledge of some aspect of a crime.

On the whole, without a much greater adoption level by consumers, I doubt the urgency of the threat of criminals being able to readily access private information in this manner. Presently it seems that the EPOC is a device more geared towards early adopters. At the same time, given our attention to applications of neuroscience to the law, I find the notion of a more capable lie detection and interrogation method intriguing. Consider the usage of such a device as an alternative to “enhanced interrogation” techniques used on terror suspects. If a plot were in the works, an agent would simply have to expose a captured individual to image stimuli and gauge the reactions to narrow down the possibilities. The device could similarly be used in missing person cases to potentially reach the victim and protect them. Such a use would come with important, and surely controversial, ethical considerations.

Popular Science Article: http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2012-08/hacking-human-brain-personal-data-using-300-shelf-brain-scanner

CBS Article: http://seattle.cbslocal.com/2012/08/25/scientists-successfully-hack-brain-to-obtain-private-data/#.UDqu2AMOjoI.reddit


2 thoughts on “Mind-Reading Cyber-Criminals

  1. The applications of the technology with terror suspects and in missing person cases is really interesting. How exactly do you foresee it used in the latter cases? And what are your thoughts on the privacy implications involved in both types of cases?

    • In a missing person case I could see it being used in a number of ways. If you were to monitor a suspect and show a progression of pictures, one of which would be the missing person, you could potentially determine if the suspect recognized the abducted person in a way that was significant (supposing the suspect had no reason to know the victim). Using images of areas a suspect frequents in conjunction with stimuli focusing on “body,” “trapped,” or other terms to potentially reveal where the person is could assist police in finding the victim.

      The constitutional implications would be quite large. Personally, I view most things with strong bias towards restricting government’s ability to enter into our lives. Combining that general philosophy with the fact that we, as a country, do not tend to live in fear for our lives, I do not believe that opening the door to private thought would give any protection that would be worth such an utterly complete intrusion.

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