The technology to control our brains externally, through wired implants, already exists. Experiments have also advanced methods of wireless control. How long before such power is abused? How long before the methods are mastered and the power to take over a brain against the will of the individual becomes a common form of repression?
“Because apes share similar brain features and are capable of calculated, volitional movement, their grey matter has served as a fruitful petri dish for the development of brain-machine interface technology.
In many of the experimental studies to understand the frontiers of brain-machine interface, apes are implanted with invasive electrodes placed into the brain – generally into the motor cortex area correlated to hand and arm movement.”
“…the questions that we will grapple with more and more in the coming decades of neuroscience are not going to get any less important. To consider a few:
- Must we have a necessary human pain or ill condition to ameliorate (like paralysis or other neurological conditions) in order to justify primate experiments, or will such research be permissible for “enhancement” technologies as well?
- What kinds of suffering / psychological perturbation is permissible when experimenting on rats, versus rabbits, versus apes, and how does the sentient capacity and cognitive depth of a creature impact the rules around their treatment?
Scientists have succeeded in remotely controlling the movements of mice. If human beings are next, how can we deal with the moral and ethical implications of this discovery? Imagine someone remotely controlling your brain, forcing your body’s central processing organ to send messages to your muscles that you didn’t authorize. It’s an incredibly scary thought, but scientists have managed to accomplish this science fiction nightmare for real, albeit on a small scale, and they were even able to prompt their test subject to run, freeze in place, or even completely lose control over its limbs. Thankfully, the research will be used for good rather than evil, for now at least.
The effort, led by physics professor Arnd Pralle PhD, of the University at America’s Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences, focused on a technique called “magneto-thermal stimulation.” It’s not exactly a simple process — because it requires the implantation of specially built DNA strands and nanoparticles which attach to specific neurons. But once the minimally invasive procedure is over, the brain can be remotely controlled via an alternating magnetic field. When those magnetic inputs are applied, the particles heat up, causing the neurons to fire.
Despite only being tested on mice, the research could have far-reaching implications in the realm of brain research. The holy grail for dreamers like Elon Musk is that we’ll one day be able to tweak our brains to eliminate mood disorders and make us more perfect creatures. This groundbreaking research could very well be an important step towards that future.
This qualified hope: that the research “will be used for good rather than evil, for now…”
Because when a new invention like the direct digitalization of our brain is sold to the public, the media, as a rule, begin by pointing out the medical benefits and new opportunities to diminish suffering. …But, as they say, what goes out must come in; and the digitalization of our brain opens up unheard-of possibilities of control….
Incidentally, the news we speak of is not exactly fresh: already in May 2002, it was reported that scientists at New York University had attached a computer chip able to receive signals directly to a rat’s brain, so that one can control the rat (determining the direction in which it will run) by means of a steering mechanism (in the same way one runs a remote-controlled toy car). For the first time the will of a living animal, and its spontaneous decisions about the movements it will make, were taken over by an external machine.
Of course, the big philosophical question here is: how did the unfortunate rat experience movements which were effectively decided from outside? Did it continue to experience it as something spontaneous (i.e., was it totally unaware that its movements are steered?), or was it aware that something was wrong and that another external power was directing its movements?
Even more crucial is to apply the same reasoning to an identical experiment performed with humans (which, ethical questions notwithstanding, shouldn’t be much more complicated, technically speaking, than the case of the rat).
When it comes to the rat, one can argue that we should not apply to it the human category of experience, while, in the case of a human being, we need to ask this question. So, again – will a steered human continue to experience his movements as something spontaneous? Will he remain totally unaware that his movements are steered, or will he become aware that something is wrong and an external power is deciding his movements?
And, how, precisely, will this external power appear: as something inside the person, like an unstoppable inner drive, or as simple external coercion? If the subject will remain totally unaware that their spontaneous behavior is steered from outside, can we really go on pretending that this has no consequences for our notion of free will?”
And how many years will go by before governments choose not to care about free will or people’s rights, and choose to do whatever it takes to have total control over everyone?