Opinion

Hold onto your thoughts: Nissan is planning to access our brainwaves

Edge's Richard Parker considers where Nissan's brain-to-vehicle scanning technology might lead us. It involves blockchain, Clint Eastwood and a lot of thinking about sex.

I recently read an interesting story about Nissan’s brain-to-vehicle technology. For those not familiar, Nissan is exploring the idea of supplementing your conscious actions when driving – you know, steering, indicating, accelerating, braking etc – with ‘pre-emptive’ automated actions by the car, based on your brainwaves.

The theory being that if you need to brake, your brain knows this fractions of seconds before your foot hits the brake, and those fractions of seconds could be the difference between life and death.

Aside from the obvious Firefox references (and for those born after 1980 I’m referring to the Clint Eastwood movie in which he plays a US fighter pilot who has to think in Russian to control a stolen Russian fighter jet that – you guessed it – is controlled by brainwaves. Russian ones. Not the web browser), this bit of news is actually pretty staggering.

For example: if Nissan is using your brainwaves to control the car, it is obviously able to capture those brainwaves. Which opens up terrifying thoughts.

I mean, Nissan will know when you’re not paying attention to the road and instead daydreaming about how much you hate Darren from accounts (sorry, Darren). It could pass this info to insurance companies, who might penalise you for being an escapist-fantasist.

Or to take it a step further, it could pass the info to law enforcement agencies, who could arrest you for a crime you were thinking about committing, Minority Report style. You could object on the grounds that everyone hates Darren from accounts, but that would hold little water with the thought-police.

And, if our ability to read brainwaves continues to improve, Nissan would know some creepy stuff that might drive in-car advertising. Apparently, men think about sex every seven seconds (this is likely to be apocryphal, but go with me here). So as we’re driving along, almost constantly thinking about sex, our car will know all about it. And serve all kinds of dodgy ads to us when we reach our destination. That our kids might see. Icky.

On a more serious note, this does open up opportunities for marketers. As cars become more autonomous – and autonomous technology becomes more reliable – human attention will not need to be on the road the whole time whilst driving. And that means… ads! (understand that I’m using ‘ads’ here as a shorthand for marketing material in general – so it could, in this future world, include entertainment content via immersive VR, or more utility-driven content relevant to the world outside the vehicle via AR. Sorry to drop THOSE buzzword in here).

And what better way to deliver truly contextual and relevant advertising than by understanding someone’s mood, and exactly what they’re thinking about in any given moment.

So Nissan’s technology is likely – over time – to have a whole range of interesting applications beyond controlling the vehicle, including driving revenue. And revenue will be important in a world where no-one really ‘owns’ a vehicle – it might pay for the infrastructure needed for fully autonomous vehicles, including the vehicles themselves.

Of course, this opens up all sorts of ethical questions about data ownership – a lot of which could be solved by applying blockchain (sorry! another buzzword!) technology to consumer data – in this version of a future world, consumer data would belong to the individual, and that individual would be able to grant access to that data to third-party organisations as necessary.

Meaning that Nissan wouldn’t actually own it at all, but access it in return for a service. But that’s a thought for another day.

Richard Parker is executive planning director and partner at content marketing agency Edge.

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