Are You Listening, Orwell?

March 31, 2009
By , Mississauga, Canada
Is that Orwell's ominous predicition I hear, tolling in the background? As the latest tech gadget craze, Audeo borders between dystopian and utilitarian, it just seems the world is flashing back to the good ole' days of 1984.

Invented by Ambient Corporation, the Audeo is in essence the world’s first voiceless telephone. Based on microcontroller technology from Texas Instruments Inc., the device uses a wireless sensor placed on the neck to capture neurological activity being sent to the vocal cords and then turns it into digitised speech, making actual vocalization unnecessary. According to Ambient Corp. CEO Michael Callahan, “The Audeo can enable voiceless communication that is virtually as easy as just thinking about it.”

The Audeo is being promoted both as the latest in general communications technology, and as a miraculous technological breakthrough for people with physical disabilities that limit their ability to move or speak. The same technology that will enable cell phone calls in ‘environments not conducive to conversation’ will also allow people suffering from diseases like Parkinson’s, cerebral palsy, or ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) to communicate orally with the world around them, and even operate a wheelchair without physical movement. While these advances are certainly remarkable, most people are so caught up in the wonderful possibilities that they’re blind to the negative implications of the innovation.
All this talk of capturing neurological activity worries me. If it’s possible to pick up the messages your brain is sending to your vocal cords, then how long will it be before it’s possible to intercept the messages being sent within your brain? In short, technology has almost reached a point where it could be used to literally read minds.
“Awesome!” you may think. “I’ve always wanted to be able to read people’s thoughts!” You wouldn’t be alone in that opinion; telepathy is one of the most popular superpowers people wish they had, and telepathic characters appear frequently in popular culture (Heroes’ Matt Parkman and Twilight’s Edward Cullen being recent examples). However, our fascination with mind reading doesn’t usually extend beyond what it could do for us; we neglect to consider what could happen if the tables were turned and it was done TO us. What if your classmates and teachers knew exactly what you were thinking at any given moment? How would you feel if your parents were aware of every single detail of your life, whether you liked it or not?
Even worse, imagine that kind of technology in the hands of the government. Yes, it could be helpful in bringing criminals to justice, but beyond that…well, the possibilities are endless, and most of them are not exactly beneficial to the general population. Just think of what a leader like George W. Bush could do with that kind of power! It’s a scary thought. Suddenly, all those futuristic sci-fi stories and dystopian novels don’t seem quite so impossible…
I’m not saying we should suppress all new technologies and restrict progress just in case it all goes horribly wrong somewhere down the line, but we need to be cautious. We need to keep our eyes open and make sure our constant desire for technological advancement doesn’t come back to haunt us, because technology is far, far beyond the point of being controllable. With a little manipulation, something like the Audeo could help to transform our country and our world into a place we wouldn’t recognize.
One thing is certain, Big Brother is watching (or listening) to Audeo.





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