Brain hacking

The other day I discussed the possibilities of direct brain interface and cyber-enhancement of the brain/body connection. Today I talk about some of the difficult social and ethical questions that arise when you can hack into the neural interface between brain and body.

In short: if I can have implants in my brain and thereby modify my brain/body connection, then theoretically you could modify my brain/body connection.

Where this gets insidious is when hacking gets involved. Someone might not even realize that their “system” has been hacked into. For example, we make countless decisions every day, from what to purchase to who seems friendly, or seems like dating material. If somebody could modify another person’s mood or state of arousal, without being detected, this could play serious havoc with notions of free will.

Right now the public sphere stops firmly at our brain — people can hack into your computer and find your phone numbers, or even your bank account, but they cannot hack into your mind and find out what you are really thinking. Much of societal function is predicated on our implicit right to put up a false front, whether we are pretending to like somebody because we’re in a business relationship with them, or whether we are politely hiding our political opinion so we can get through a dinner party without incident.

If this last curtain of privacy were torn away, society itself would go through some fairly fundamental changes. An entire new category of legislation and law enforcement could arise, focused on thought privacy management.

Of course there are many opportunities for good things to come out of a richer ability to connect our brains with the world. But as our technological capabilities gradually allow us to travel into this brave new world, we might do well to think about the potential minefields along the way.

2 Responses to “Brain hacking”

  1. Mari says:

    I think you should stop suggesting this :) Some evil scientist will get to it if they haven’t already! Did you know that the Japanese cult which poisoned the subway and killed people in the 90s, was sending geologist-believers to Croatia for earthquake study, in order to GENERATE earthquake?! (it was practically a “coup d’etat” attempt)

  2. Ben Bederson says:

    A related issue is what happens when your brain is connecting to a virtualized device, but the device you are controlling isn’t what you think. This scenario was epitomized in Orson Scott Card’s book “Ender’s Game”, when (SPOILER ALERT), [EDITOR’S NOTE: I’VE SUPPRESSED THE REST OF BEN’S SENTENCE — I DON’T BELIEVE IN PUBLICLY SPOILING ENDINGS].

    Is the car I’m driving my car or someone elses? Is the person I am marrying the person I think it is? Is the money I am depositing into my bank account really going into my account or someone elses?

    Bottom line, full virtualization is big trouble. Fortunately, I’m not quite as optimistic as Ken about it’s nearness :)

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