What Emerging Mind-Reading Tech Means in Marketing


By Greg Heist, Chief Innovation Officer, Gongos, Inc.

“Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters inside your skull.”

That was the description of the bleak, dystopian future dreamed up in George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984.

Seventy years after Orwell penned this chilling prediction, the U.S. is far from the suppressive, brutal, dictatorship imaged by the author. But we are rapidly moving closer to a world where access to human thoughts and feelings – the most private and powerful of all data sources – is fast on its way to becoming commonplace.

The Evolution of Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI)s

In fact, brain-computer interfaces (BCI) – technology that can translate brainwave patterns into digital form – have been around for decades. We were, until recently, unable to determine how to decode neural signals into words, pictures, and commands we could understand. But advancements in deep learning are rapidly expanding the potential power and prevalence of BCIs.

Companies Paving the Way

Leading the way in the rapidly emerging BCI design field are tech giants Neuralink and Facebook Reality Labs. The former, helmed by Tesla founder Elon Musk, announced this July that it had made significant strides in designing an implantable device that could allow the user to communicate with a device – from their smartphone to their cars – with their thoughts. Thus far, the device has shown some success with rats and monkeys, but human clinical trials are expected to kick off within the next year.

Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Reality Labs is funding research on BCIs that would be able to type messages using only your brain waves. According to Facebook researchers, the company has already developed an algorithm that can decode words from brainwaves in real-time.

Both Neuralink and Facebook teams emphasize the potential scientific good of mind-reading technologies. Their focus – at least initially – is to enable patients with neurological impairments to communicate and connect with other human beings. The theory is that BCI devices could allow the user to virtually control a smartphone, car, or any other device with their minds – a revolutionary development for those with paralysis and other physical limitations.

Considering the Benefits

Beyond altruistic reasons, the rise of BCI technologies could be a boon to both corporations and consumers. Mind-reading devices have the potential to improve existing business applications by bringing greater accuracy and automation to functions like speech recognition, autocorrect, and personalization.

The Implications for Marketers

The explosion of data and the application of advanced analytics has accelerated the evolution of marketing in the digital age. And while this has fueled consumers’ desire for more personalization, this increasingly comes at the price of personal privacy.

And when you layer in the highly alluring data captured via BCI, marketing as a discipline could rapidly shift from a focus on mass messaging—that is in some mediums still regulated—to hyper-personalized connections with consumers.

However, if used carelessly, the very notion of the consumer application of BCIs risks the violation and capitalization on humans’ most fundamental personal possession: their private thoughts. BCI technology increases the risk of valuable and sensitive data surrounding an individual such as consumer appetites and preferences falling into the wrong hands.

Brands and marketers alike are required to dance along the delicate line of technological evolution and sensitivity to protect and respect consumer privacy and data. The concept of applying BCI from a marketing perspective places consumer trust and loyalty at risk.

Drawing Lines and Building Trust

While customer-centric companies may celebrate the gold mine of consumer cognitive data as a way to make relevant marketing decisions, the imperative for reciprocity in the relationship between consumers and businesses is more important than ever as we enter the neurological information age.

To date, laws behind the collection, monetization, and use of brain data remain largely unsolidified, but there is one thing we know for certain – convincing users to share private thoughts and preferences with your company will require that you first build a substantial level of trust. To gain access to the valuable, sensitive information revealed in consumers’ brain waves, establishing confidence between a customer and your brand is just as (if not more) fundamental to your company than the cognitive insights themselves that will inform your business…and marketing decisions.

As published in MyCustomer.