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Mind-Reading and Telepathy for Beginners and Intermediates: What People Think Machines Can Know About the Mind, and Why Their Beliefs Matter


What can machines know about the mind, even theoretically? This dissertation examines what people (end-users and software engineers) believe the answer to this question might be, where these beliefs come from, and what effect they have on social behavior and technical practice. First, qualitative and quantitative data from controlled experiments show how basic biosignals, such as heartrate, meet with both social context and prior beliefs about the body to produce mind-related meanings, and affect social decision-making. Second, a working brain-computer interface probes the diverse beliefs that software engineers hold about the mind, and uncovers their shared belief that the mind can and will be read by machines. These cases trace an unstable boundary–one heavily mediated by human beliefs–between sensing bodies and sensing minds. I propose the porousness of this boundary as a site for studying the futures of computer-mediated communication, of security, privacy and surveillance, and of minds themselves.

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