You own your thoughts. But maybe not for long.

July 11, 2018


This will take 4 minutes to read, but I promise it’s worth your attention.

Imagine you had a brain interface that could read all of your thoughts, conscious and subconscious. Who would own that data? Who would you give access to? Who could make money on it?

Given that we’re building brain interfacing technology at Kernel, and others are also building this technology, this is an important thought exercise that has been weighing heavily on my mind.

Our lives are captured digitally; search history, what we read/write, where we go, what we do, how fast we walk, what we buy, where we live, habits, preferences, religion, politics, and thousands more intimate details. Facebook, Google and others have been mining, monetizing, and profiting from this information. It’s unsettling to think that our raw brain data could be treated the same way.

Today, your thoughts are your private domain. You are the only person with access to your brain. This is the only data that you still control. But unless we make some big changes, that will soon no longer be the case.

The implications are more serious than I hear anyone talking about.

A few months ago, #DeleteFacebook was trending from their reckless mismanagement of our information and I wrote Your Data is Your Property to flesh out this argument. Despite the public upheaval, FB’s market cap is up $100B and the data conversation has moved on. Fortunately, The Economist and others have continued their examination of data ownership with new articles released this week.

It is essential that we get this issue right, not only to stop the intrusion on privacy or the corporate exploitation of personal data, but also because it’s central to the future of the human race.

Here’s why this issue is time sensitive NOW: we’ve fast tracked the path to make humans irrelevant. Our current economic systems are perfectly designed to put humans out of business.  It’s simple: money flows to the highest returning investment and by this measure, it’s more profitable to invest in technology than humans (the gap is widening quickly). Soon, it will only make economic sense to invest in technology.

Ultimately, our data feeds the technology that allows digital intelligence (like that which powers Facebook) to get smarter, faster, and achieve record breaking revenues.  And perhaps most importantly, they get it, for free, and at our expense.

To reverse this path to irrelevance, we need to begin radically improving ourselves. This begins with us owning our data. If we don’t begin the quest to radically improve ourselves, beyond what we are currently capable, we will not be able to adequately future proof ourselves.  This is the answer to the future of work/robots taking our jobs.

Our personal data, which includes our skills, decision making, knowledge, biases, proclivities and blind spots, is the most powerful and valuable self improvement asset we have because it allows us to see things about ourselves that we can’t on our own.  

In short, however the future evolves, owning our thoughts is a necessary starting point. From there, we need to reconfigure our economic incentives and our personal ambitions towards radical human improvement.

These ideas are further explained in A Plan for Humanity – skip to Step 3.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, while you still get to choose whether you share them – yah!