It’s 2035 now. When you go to work, you should definitely take your BSH — Brain Security Hat — before you go to work. The hat has become part of the cultural image of anyone who works in an area with sensitive, confidential information; as it protects your brain from hackers.

Does it sound like the opening scene of some dystopian fantasy novel? Well, given the recent developments in brainwave sensing technologies, the idea of ​​a future in which the human brain can be hacked is worth considering.

What for? Because the concept of «sounding» brain waves is fast becoming a mainstream activity in today’s society. EEG technology has been around for many years, but what is the nature of this brain activity and the electrical signature on the scalp it produces?

If metal electrodes can detect them, then why can’t a remote device be? What can these signals tell someone about what you are doing, thinking, or what your intentions are? In this article, we’ll talk to a board-certified neuroscientist, information systems expert, and former CIA neuroscientist to better understand if there could be a future threat where hackers might one day try to «hack» your brain.

I’ll spoil the plot for you — someone can hack your brain, and if you get to the interview at the end of this article, you’ll understand why.

Control things with your brain

The popularity of using brainwaves for the practical person really caught on when toy manufacturers began to capitalize on the technology. An excellent example of this technology is the brain-controlled helicopter called Orbita, manufactured by Puzzlebot.

While watching someone control a toy can give the impression that the person is intentionally «controlling» the craft with their mind, the reality is that toy manufacturers are simply using levels of existing brainwaves to get a feel for how strong someone is. concentrates. Puzzlebox CEO Steve Castellotti explained the concept to the Huffington Post in 2013.

….If you’re doing math homework or translating into a foreign language or something like a steady, steady sequence of thoughts, there’s a rhythm like someone is beating a drum. We can take this from the electrical signal and use it to control the helicopter.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what you think only that your thoughts are focused on one central thing.

Of course, during this same period of time, especially during 2012 and 2013, the whole mass concept of using elevated brainwaves, denoting «focused thought», to control toys. During this time, some examples of toys that came out included:

  • Star Wars Science Force Trainer or Mindflex toy collection — both allowed you to control the movement of a small, light ball.
  • Neural Impulse Actuator, developed by OCZ Technology, provided a «brain-computer interface» for Windows PC game developers to incorporate brainwaves into computer software.
  • mind set NeuroSky, was an EEG headset that also allows developers to develop software based on brainwaves.

NeuroSky, the developers of MindSet, have also released a set of silly looking fuzzy cat ears called Necomimi that will move in response to the wearer’s «emotions» (you can’t think of that!)

While these toys are fun novelties to keep kids (and maybe even adults) entertained for hours, what are the implications for the future? Are these «brainwaves» useful for more than just determining if someone is experiencing a «focused» thought, or could you learn more about a person’s thoughts with such sensors?

Psychology of sensations and emotions

According to Dr. Decontee Jimmeh, a Board-certified neurologist at Brookwood Medical Center’s Norwood Clinic, electrical activity sensed by an EEG can actually provide interesting information about a person’s brain and personality. However, rather than simply «listening» to a person’s brain wave patterns, Dr. Jimme explains that you can gather important information about a person’s «neurochemical behavior» by observing brain wave patterns in response to certain events.

Like the EEG, evoked potentials are also records of the electrical activity of the brain. However, evoked potentials are produced by a stimulus (such as a visual or auditory stimulus) instead of the spontaneous recording obtained by an EEG. […] These recordings, even smaller than EEG and evoked potential signals, are time-synchronized signals after a stimulus and its corresponding neurobehavioral response.

While this information won’t tell you exactly what the person is thinking, it won’t reveal specific psychological conditions. they can help you predict how they are likely to act in response to certain stimuli. It can provide you with a complete set of «personality characteristics» that will allow you to accurately predict how a person is likely to react in any given situation — essentially their psychological «personality».

… There is anecdotal evidence that depressed patients may have certain lower amplitude time recordings (i.e. P300 waveform). Emotions come from deeper, more primitive areas of the brain, such as the limbic system. However, they reach our consciousness through the cortex. Therefore, in theory, scalp electrodes can record sensory-related signals.

Currently, these brainwaves require electrodes in contact with the skin, but what would be required to remotely sense these brainwaves?

Brain hack?

To better understand the «brain wave reader» technology used by toy manufacturers today, we sat down with Dr. Adrian Randolph, a professor at Kennesaw State University and founder and director of BrainLab. At BrainLab, Randolph studies state-of-the-art brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) and how they can be used to help homebound people such as those with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Dr. Randof’s BrainLab recently developed a BCI for Google Glass that allows users to trigger swipes and select events with a single thought.

In this 2011 TEDx talk, Randolph describes the human brain as «perfect remote control».

Randolph explained that there is already an effort called «neuromarketing» that is being researched by companies that want to better understand consumer reactions to products through neurological metrics, rather than what the consumer actually says about the product.

It is basically the use of neurophysiological tools to get into the mind of the consumer. Traditionally, we’ll put you in a focus group and ask you a bunch of questions, but there are so many biases that can come into play when your conscious brain takes over and colors your answers. However, we can determine your gut response by watching your brainwaves, watching your eyes to see where you are looking, watching your pulse, and all these other ways our bodies give us away.

Dr. Randolph explained that the research technology uses a «swimming cap»-like device covered with electrodes that touch the scalp, all of which are fed back to the «bioamplifier» via a serial cable.


The bio-amplifier is what provides researchers with a clearer version of the very low amplitude brain signals coming from the scalp. Dr. Randolph described how researchers can identify specific actions or behaviors by looking at what frequency of the brain wave program changes at any given time.

For example, a signal associated with movement, mu [волна]is about eight to thirteen hertz.

One of the most significant problems with picking up such low amplitude signals on the scalp, Randolph says, is that the sensors are so sensitive that they also pick up electrical activity in the room at other frequencies, such as a 60 hertz signal coming from a computer monitor or electrical outlets in the room. This signal must be filtered by the hardware and software that performs the brain wave analysis.

Some people have gone so far as to create what are called Faraday cages. […]but we’re working on real world applications and most of us don’t wear copper cages…

Do brainwaves provide useful information?

The main question, of course, is whether this is possible for someone out there — be it a futuristic attacker, or some government agency that wants to use brainwave hacking as a new form of surveillance — to actually extract useful data about a person’s intention or thought by sensing a person’s brainwaves?

Many people before us, much smarter than me, have already mapped out the areas of the brain associated with things like movement, visual attention, judgment and things like that — but this is the first layer. The second level is people who have been involved in signal processing, filtering and various algorithms for years. [….] If you know where to look, you don’t have to create one of these things. [алгоритмов] on one’s own.

However, Dr. Randolph also explained that it’s not as simple as extracting this information from someone’s brain wave profile.

brain waves

Researchers still need a «targeted» approach to scan the right areas of the brain to get more information about what’s going on there.

I’ll do a research job where I’ll scan the entire brain while someone is doing something like watching a video, then I’ll see which areas get the most «light». Based on this, I can say, “Oh, okay, these are the areas that are associated with language, attention, cognitive load or movement, and then try to understand their thought process. The asterisk in that, it’s all correlational — you can’t tell that because this area is being illuminated, that’s what they’re doing, or that’s what they’re thinking. Probably because of those past algorithms I’ve been talking about, but it’s very touching to say that we can know these things with «certainty».

Dr. Randolph described this approach as trying to hear one person in a stadium full of people. If you place the microphone in the middle of the stadium, you will barely hear the person in the midst of all the noise, but if you give the person a microphone to talk to, you will be able to hear them clearly.


It’s like the placement of sensors on the scalp in terms of how clear the signal is from that area of ​​the brain and the value of the information you’re gathering.

The point of all this is that the current state of the art requires that as many electrodes as possible be placed as close as possible to the area of ​​the brain where activity occurs. The farther from the brain you get, the less likely you are to get useful data. When asked if she was aware of any research into «remote» sensing of the same data as the cables the electrodes are talking about, Dr. Randolph replied that there was probably a lot of interest in this type of technology today.

I have no doubt that there are people thinking about this, but I think that the problem now is in the electrical circuit. To read this electrical activity, the most important thing is to get the ground to complete this path. So you need to touch the scalp somehow. […] Guger Tech has a «Sahara» dry electrode system, but it still has to touch the scalp. At the present time, I don’t know anything about anything that doesn’t concern the head.

When asked if there is any approach or technology that could feel these electrical impulses on the scalp, at a distance, Dr. Randolph replied:

You’ll have to talk to an electrical engineer, but as far as I know there are voltmeters and electronic spectrometers where you can keep them in the room and see if there’s electrical activity, but that’s such a rough read. However, I feel it’s not worth thinking that someone can improve this to make it more sensitive. [….] I wouldn’t say it’s impossible, but I don’t believe it’s the right thing to do.

The bottom line is that scientists have not yet reached the point where they can fully decipher someone’s thoughts. The requirement for this would be to match against a database that lists the patterns of brain activity associated with specific feelings or thoughts, but according to Dr. Randolph, that’s the next step, and we’re not there yet.

It’s a huge leap that we have to take and we’re getting to the processing and storage level because that’s what it takes to build this huge pattern matching system. However, I don’t think there is that much traction [прямо сейчас]. I think the hacker should be motivated. When we get to the point where we can extracting something really good from someone’s brain is will be be of great importance. Because if the president uses such a system and wirelessly transmits from some kind of sensor, then someone will want to hack it.

Reading your mind is a spy’s dream

Where academia ends, researchers from government labs around the world tend to pick up. This is especially true for brain wave research.

According to Dr. Christopher Greene, professor of neuroscience and clinical researcher at Wayne School of Medicine and former CIA science analyst, there are already studies showing successful «extraction» of real data from the human brain using brain wave analysis.


Dr. Green noted experiments carried out by researchers at Oxford, Berkeley and the University of Geneva in 2012 titled «Possibilities of side-channel attacks with brain-computer interfaces», where the researchers were able to successfully extract ATM pin codes from the subject’s mind. ,

Dr Green explained:

The briefing talks about the ATM and the «recovery» of pin codes from bank cards. Subject stands at an ATM machine and deliberately [думает] about the numbers in your mind, and the signals are extracted from the intercept «Side Channel» (electrophysiological jargon). Fatal flaw: There are much easier ways to do the same thing… although this works IF (little ‘if’) someone has already received EEG data from the target… «reading» or «looking at» a known list of words, numbers, etc. . on the. This step will not be necessary if the above research is in progress, however.

According to Dr. Green, material from the above study has been repeatedly briefed by agencies such as DARPA and the CIA, and the study has been «exceptionally well received.»

What’s impressive is how close this cutting-edge research seems to be able to analyze a subject’s raw brain waves and interpolate literal thoughts from those patterns. It’s not twenty or thirty years, according to Dr. Green.

I sure that [исследование] was continued to some extent, to what extent I don’t know. I can say that the research would (in my opinion) take 5 years and several million dollars (not tens of millions) because the work is going fast in other labs besides Oxford, Berkeley and Geneva… and could be used. Problem; who wants it? What will be the real value?

In fact, this is because Dr. Randolph stated that the commercialization of such technology could go faster if someone out there could identify any real value in the ability to hack the human mind. It seems that the real value is not in the commercial sector, but in the world of intelligence.

These currently existing technologies are both brilliant and intimidating. One can only imagine what exists in the world of secret brainwave data mining research, and what does this mean for the «privacy of the brain» in the future?

Do you think that once brain researchers can understand specific thoughts from brain patterns, would this pose a security risk? Is such a “tuning” of brain wave analysis possible? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Daniela Saxenheimer / Shutterstock , Alila Medical Media / Shutterstock , Dziurek / , Dr. Christopher Green Image courtesy of Dr. Green

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