Neuroscience: Language decoder can reconstruct meaning from brain scans

Brain-reading technology’s threat to mental privacy

The technology’s modest but significant progress is raising ethical concerns.

“While this technology is in its infancy, it’s very important to regulate what brain data can and cannot be used for,” said Jerry Tang, another co-author of the study, in an interview with BBC Science Focus.


It remains to be seen whether the technology could one day account for the subtleties of language, like tone and context, or the unique ways language is processed between individuals. Even if those capacities are developed, another question is whether it would be ethical to apply the technology in, for example, the realms of law or healthcare. Though still a work in progress, brain decoding devices could one day help those who have lost their ability to speak, such as those who have suffered a stroke.

Policymakers may not have long to ponder that question. The development of brain sensor technology from the likes of Meta and Snap means that the last bastion of privacy—the inside of our own noggins—could soon be violable.


“I’m not calling for panic, but the development of sophisticated, non-invasive technologies like this one seems to be closer on the horizon than we expected,” bioethicist Gabriel Lázaro-Muñoz at Harvard Medical School in Boston told Nature. “I think it’s a big wake-up call for policymakers and the public.”

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