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As the world inches ever closer to mind-reading technology, some scientists are calling to legally enshrine the right to keep our thoughts to ourselves.

In interviews with Undark, neuroscientists — including those who are working to make these so-called brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) happen — revealed their concerns about the devices.

In one particularly telling exchange, a pair of researchers from the University of Texas at Austin who've successfully created a BCI that can rudimentarily translate brain waves into text described how it felt to realize their device was actually reading their thoughts.

"Holy shit," UT neuroscientist Alexander Huth, who had been working on BCIs for almost a decade when he achieved a breakthrough in 2020, recalled exclaiming. "This is actually working."

For Huth, the moment was especially strange because he'd often tested the devices on himself.

"Oh my god," the neuroscientist thought, per his retelling to Undark. "We can look inside my brain."

Huth's BCI at UT is far from the only one to manage the feat of mind-reading, however primitively. Indeed, although BCIs have been around in various experimental forms for half a century, there have been reports in recent years of other researchers creating fledgling devices that can quite literally read the thoughts of the wearer.

While this tech will invariably help people who cannot speak or type due to medical issues communicate, concerns about mental surveillance a la "Big Brother" are very real. To address them, some experts have begun championing so-called "neurorights," or the right to mental privacy.

"The loss of mental privacy, this is a fight we have to fight today," Columbia neuroscientist Rafael Yuste, who initially worked on BCI research before realizing its dangers, told the website. "That could be irreversible. If we lose our mental privacy, what else is there to lose? That’s it, we lose the essence of who we are."

Along with human rights attorney Jared Genser, Yuste founded the Neurorights Foundation in 2017 following an intensive workshop at Columbia from which the cause's "human rights framework" emerged. Thus far, the group has helped pass a constitutional amendment passed in Chile, petitioned the United Nations, and been the subject of a Werner Herzog documentary — but its founder worries that still may not be enough as the technology continues to progress.

"When this tsunami hits us I would say it’s not likely it’s for sure that humans will end up transforming themselves — ourselves — into maybe a hybrid species," he told Undark.

Huth and his team, for their part, have begun testing whether BCI brain-reading could be resisted, but even he appreciates the dangers that could well lie ahead.

"I think the range of reasonable possibilities includes things that are — I don’t want to say like scary enough — but like dystopian enough that I think it’s certainly a time for us to think about this," he said.

More on brains: Computer Made From Human Brain Cells Can Perform Voice Recognition

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