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Brain computer interface offers marketing potential

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In recent years there have been some remarkable breakthroughs in streamlining a brain-computer interface. These have immense implications for the treatment of brain injuries and helping communication issues for the handicapped.

It was only a matter of time though before some marketing whizz recognised the implications for making a fast buck rather than just helping the disadvantaged. With the technology becoming cheaper, it is now possible to use it commercially.

Phone apps are an obvious avenue, with brain-monitoring devices offering a particularly sophisticated form of market research. Basic brain-computer interface devices can track the brain’s response to signals and stimulants, allowing the build-up of data that records a consumer’s response to advertising messages and entertainment.

The buzzword to describe this form of research is the faintly sinister "neuromarketing" and it operates on a vastly more sophisticated plane than just calling people up and asking about their favourite brand of cola. The brain does not lie and instinctive cerebral responses may be far more valuable to marketing companies than consumer surveys.

American academics Sean Vitka and Grady Johnson, writing in Slate, point out that the technology has commercial implications far beyond the potential for direct market research. The technology could have serious repercussions for people taking out life insurance for example. "With a large enough data set," they argue, "companies will be able to identify risk indicators for things like suicide, depression, or emotional instability, all of which are deeply personal to us as individuals but dangerous to their bottom lines."

The idea of this kind of technology may seem alarmingly intrusive to many, but the era of social media seems to have created a society with little concern for privacy. The Facebook generation that routinely fails to tick the privacy box might not worry about having their brainwaves scanned, their innermost thoughts added to a marketing database.

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