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Like mice, humans might soon have their brains controlled externally

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No need for any advanced science to do it: controlling the brain of people is already available, it’s called mainstream media, and especially television.


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?
The legendary John Steinbeck took the title of his most famous novella from Robert Burns’s poem “To a Mouse”:

“I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion / Has broken Nature’s social union, / And justifies that ill opinion, / Which makes thee startle, / At me, thy poor, earth-born companion, / And fellow-mortal! // The best laid schemes of Mice and Men / Gang aft agley, / And leave us nought but grief and pain, / For promised joy!” (“Agley” is a Scottish word for “awry, wrong.”)

The situation described in these lines is that of a human being apologizing to a mouse for breaking “nature’s social union” due to his thirst for domination over the natural world, which justifies the mouse’s fear of humans and poor opinion of them. The human also concedes that, even if his scheme was well-meant, it turned ugly, causing nothing but grief. But can we imagine the same scene taking place between the human scientist and the mouse on which he performed the following experiment?

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.

Forced actions
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” sounds like the well-known doctor’s jokes about “first the good news, then the bad news.”

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. Even Stephen Hawking’s little finger – the minimal link between his mind and outside reality, the only part of his paralyzed body that Hawking can move – is no longer needed: with his wired mind, he can DIRECTLY cause his wheelchair to move, as his brain can directly serve as a remote control device.  But, as they say, what goes out must come in; and the digitalization of our brain opens up unheard-of possibilities of control.


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