If You Could Read My Mind

By Janice Barlow

Sometimes when you are on Facebook, it seems like it is reading your mind. Ads pop up on the side of your screen and in your newsfeed that reflect items and ideas that you have been considering. Weren’t you just talking to your friend about taking a cruise to Alaska? Or didn’t you wonder if there was a purse that matched that lavender dress you bought on sale last week? Haven’t you recently noticed that your “senior” dog has been moving slower?

How does Facebook know that these things are on your mind?

Well, imbedded within the site are mathematical formulations known as algorithms. They detect activity on your device, whether it be your PC, phone, or tablet. No, they can’t tell what you are actually saying to someone one the phone…yet, but they recognize words you may type in search engines, (cruise, lavender shoes, dog vitamins) or they can detect articles or ads that you are clicking on regarding these topics. You may not even remember that you did so. Maybe an advertisement caught your eye about an Alaskan cruise last week and you clicked on it in passing, but you weren’t interested in that particular cruise line. The act of clicking on it starts the algorithm in motion so that you start to see related ads pop up as you wander around on Facebook.

As if that concept isn’t frightening enough in its pervasiveness, imagine if Facebook could read your mind! Assume that you never indicated that you were looking for any of these things by initiating a search or clicking on an ad or an article.

This week, Mark Zuckerberg, Founder of Facebook, announced in San Jose during a corporate conference that Facebook was working on a “direct brain interface”. It will “allow users to communicate using only your mind”. Facebook was actively seeking an engineer who could create such an interface, known as a BCI (Brain-computer interface) last year, to get this unique research underway. So in essence, Facebook would let you communicate by reading your mind.

In what would appear to make a gripping sci-fi movie idea, Zuckerberg has a goal of allowing the world to see captured thoughts of Facebook users. The idea is for the system to type, up to 100 words per minute, what you are thinking in text form. How this could actually work, and work without a hitch is a mystery that maybe only Al Gore knows the answer to.

The obvious concerns would be privacy and the unauthorized use of information by advertisers and others, such as list buyers. Facebook feels that development of a workable BCI is at least two years into the future, which doesn’t seem that far away.

Already, Apple has nearly perfected a self-driving automobile, and robots can almost do everything else now. In fact, there are cases of people who have fallen “in love” with robots.

As an author of True Crime books, the first thing that came to my mind when I heard about Facebook reading people’s minds, was a hypothetical scenario of a spouse getting a hold of her husband’s phone or iPad, and taking a look at what he has been “thinking about”. Divorce courts might become even more busy, not to mention a few unusual murder cases!

Better perfect your passwords, folks! You never know who will try and find out what you are thinking.


Janice’s last true crime book was just published in February and is available on Amazon: “He Should Be Dead”




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