Made by Justin Kufro

This project is meant to be provocative in that it will explore what privacy concerns may arise when our in-the-moment thoughts are externalized via simulation.

Created: February 2nd, 2019



How might memory become augmented in the future? What if we could externalize our own thoughts automatically? How many times would we prevent thinking up a great idea in the moment, only to forget exactly what it was later? A device implanted into the brain could read thoughts, and externalize them to a personal device, server, or anything else. This project is meant to be provocative in that it will explore what privacy concerns may arise when our in-the-moment thoughts are externalized via simulation. Will the benefits outweigh the concerns? We must ask ourselves if we could truly accept this kind of technology in society before it’s too late. To simulate the effect of “thought-reading”, I propose to create the ThoughtBox. This device will be a simple box with a display on it; when physically interacted with by a user it will generate a chain of related thoughts and display them for all to see.     



I created an interactive experience for any user that is intended to be exploratory and thought-provoking in nature. The experience starts with a user placing a finger on the display in order for it to scan their past thoughts and then pull of a chain of related thoughts to display in succession - usually from 3-5 related thoughts. It is created in such a way that it will start with whimsical, lighthearted thoughts, and then move onto more eerie, provoking ones. There are five mini-stories that the ThoughtBox tells, and it will cycle through them with repeated interactions.

The experience was possible through the creation of a laser-cut casing for an iPhone, as well as a Ruby on Rails application that deploys to Heroku at The core language for the backend is Ruby and the frontend interactive experience is made possible with JavaScript, jQuery, and jQueryUI.

A video of all ThoughtBox mini-stories can be found at or through the embedded video below.

CMU Responsive Mobile Environments - Thought Box
Justin Kufro -


There were two main sources of inspiration for this project. The first being a Black Mirror episode on memory playback. This episode explored how perfect memory recall - via the use of an implant - could be a positive item in someone's life (such as reliving fond memories), as well as a negative item (such as obsessing over past events to the point where a return to normal life becomes impossible). The second piece of inspiration was drawn from SuperFlux's OpenInformant project. This project was intended to be thought-provoking around the area of privacy and government-surveillance on its citizens. This informed some of the mini-stories in ThoughtBox that explored the area of privacy and the personal-nature of thoughts via a story about negotiating for a car and a reference to 1984's thought police.



The initial idea for the project's user experience was for random, single thoughts to be projected onto the display for as long as a user was touching the screen. This was prototyped and was found to limit the effectiveness as well as engagement with the device. To better support the main idea of the project - to create conversation around the pros and cons of thought-reading devices - the flow was altered into its final state. This final state involves a "scanning" period to increase engagement and anticipation for the device's results, then a viewing period where the user and bystanders are able to view a chain of related thoughts in full that ultimately tell a thought-provoking mini-story.

The choice of one of the five stories used to be randomized, however, I found that if a user was to receive two of the same mini-story back-to-back, then the experience quickly diminished in value. This caused me to change this to going through the mini-stories in a specific order so that a user is able to explore all of them before seeing a repeat.


Open Questions and Challenges

I considered using the Particle microcontroller to play sounds along with the user interactions with ThoughtBox. The main reason that I excluded it from the final prototype was that I felt that it did not enhance the project's ability to reach its goals. Perhaps if more time and attention was spent on this aspect I could better align the Particle's functionality with ThoughtBox.

One limitation of the ThoughtBox is the number of stories that it is able to tell. The YouTube video linked above displays all the five mini-stories available in ThoughtBox, and lasts around two and a half minutes. An expansion on this would be beneficial to the project's goals in that all but one mini-story is serious in nature and brings out negative aspects of thought recall. At least a few stories focused on benefits of thought recall would better support the goal of the project.



Reflect on making this project. What did you learn? What would you do differently? Did you get where you wanted to? If not, why not? What do you need to get there, etc?

I think that this project did well at achieving a reasonable level of thought-provoking conversation. The biggest takeaway for me was that it allowed me to consider personally if I would be okay with owning or being subject-to a thought-reading device - for example, in the context of an in-home reflection device or a surveillance device. I believe that each individual should come to this conclusion on their own, especially before the point in the future where the issues explored here may actually be possible. I think that the project could use the improvements mentioned above, however, I am overall happy with its outcomes. Some other (more technical) things that I got experience with were laser engraving using the Hunt laser cutters, automatic app deployments with Heroku, and Travis-CI pipelines for ensuring code quality.

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This 15-week course introduces students to responsive mobile environments and encourages them to explore speculative terrains that intersect art, technology and design and space. Iteratively, intro...more


This project is meant to be provocative in that it will explore what privacy concerns may arise when our in-the-moment thoughts are externalized via simulation.