The term "extrasensory perception" (ESP) can encapsulate many abilities, but the main one I'd like to discuss is telepathy. Telepathy is frequently seen in science fiction and is often viewed as the next stage in human evolution. One of my favorite shows of all time, Babylon 5, featured telepaths. In Star Trek, we see telepathic races such as the people of Betazed. We see Deanna Troi, who has empathic abilities.
Having the power to read someone’s mind comes with all sorts of problems. Concerns about privacy inevitably arise. How can you keep secrets from someone who can simply reach into your mind to look for the answers? Governments may wish to use those with telepathic abilities for their own purposes. In Babylon 5, telepaths are forced to choose between joining the Psi Corps, taking drugs to suppress their abilities, or go to prison. The freedoms of telepaths are strictly curtailed in order to protect the general population (that’s what people are told, anyway). In the Star Trek Voyager episode “Counterpoint,” telepaths are put into labor camps to keep them isolated.
Which right should take precedence: the right of a person to have their private thoughts protected from intrusion, or the right of the telepath to have autonomy? There isn’t an easy question to answer, though one can hardly help but cringe at some of the rigid restrictions some fictional governments have placed upon people with telepathic abilities. What kind of restrictions would be appropriate? How do you prevent government entities aimed at policing telepaths from using them merely as tools? Is it possible that, as humans evolve, we might have to answer these questions one day?