Nissan wants to read your mind. What a bad idea

Commentary: The automaker's Brain-to-Vehicle technology aims to enhance the driving experience. There are surely huge downsides.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


So you're out on a first date and you get into the car....

Nissan/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Please let me tell you what I'm really thinking.

Wait, you don't really want to know all of it, do you? 

The human mind can often be full of such disparate nonsense that revealing it would only make one seem, well, not all there. 

Yet here comes Nissan with technology that wants to know what's going on in your brain. 

Called Brain-to-Vehicle, the idea is that you put your thinking cap on before you get into the car. 

As you roll along, the car anticipates the actions your brain wants to take and makes them a split-second before your retrograde analog body gets around to them.

Clearly, Nissan thinks this very clever. So much so that it's going to show it off next week at CES, a tech show where new ideas don't always see the light of, well, the consumer market.

Still, my brain is slowly catching up to this technology and it's not happy.

Call me deficient, but I don't want to wear a cap full of wires when I drive. It's aesthetically displeasing and, I suspect, not entirely comfortable. 

Worse, this notion of my brain being manipulated into believing it's taking sharper actions when it knows that it's really the technology doing it will have only one result: my brain will resent the technology.

It's like being in a car, chatting with your passenger and gritting your teeth as he or she keeps finishing your sentences for you.

But that's not even my lumbering brain's biggest qualm. 

Who's to know what brainwaves the technology will really capture? Wouldn't every driver fear that as well as realizing that you want to break the speed limit as soon as you get past the pesky Prius in front of you, the tech will also record your utter contempt for Prius drivers in general and their troubling save-the-Earth sensibilities?

What if you're merrily driving along and wondering whether it would be fun to foment revolution by releasing 4 million squirrels into the Capitol? 

You wouldn't ever do this, of course. But how would the technology know? Instead, you'll get to your destination and 12 smile-free men in dark suits and earpieces will be waiting to greet you. 

"As an advanced research project, we understand that elements of this technology will require further development and refinement before we would bring it to market," a Nissan spokesman told me.

He said that the company was looking at 5 to 10 years before this tech might become operational, adding that the cap needs to become "smaller and more stable."

As for what parts of your brain the technology captures, he insisted: "The measuring device is focused only on the driver's medial prefrontal cortex. The research does not measure brain activity that has no impact on driving." 

My suspicious brain isn't persuaded.

In the video, you'll notice that Nissan's engineer talks about autonomy and connectivity as being two guiding lights for the future. 

I fear the slight problem may be that autonomy and connectivity are actually opposed concepts. 

Ultimately, don't we all just want to be left alone?

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