Tag Archives: brain hacking

Prison Or Brain Hacking? A Choice That May Shape Our Future

fajb_brain_hacking_01_sep2012

How does a civilized society deal with its least civilized individuals? This is a question that every society has had to answer, going back to the hunter/gatherer era. We live in an imperfect world full of imperfect individuals. Some are more imperfect than others, so much so that it’s not always possible to reform them into functional members of society.

Most people who commit crimes are not monsters, nor are they sadists who get their joy by torturing the innocent. A vast majority are just people who find themselves in bad situations where they make wrong decisions, exercise poor judgment, or lack impulse control. For these people, fines and brief imprisonment are usually sufficient.

For those who become career criminals, neither respecting the law nor seeking to abide by it, the current system is woefully inadequate. It’s part of the reason why criminal justice reform has become a hot topic. We’re finally learning that throwing people into prisons where they’re dehumanized, degraded, and tortured doesn’t help them become productive members of society. Go figure.

There’s plenty of room for improvement. Some countries have demonstrated that there are more effective, more humane ways to treat criminals. However, even those systems have their limits. As long as human beings remain an imperfect species, we’ll still have to deal with these deviant, violent, and inherently dangerous individuals.

For the moment, our options for dealing with these people are few. It primarily involves incarceration or intense therapy, often coupled with drug therapy. While this can be helpful to some, there are severe limitations. Some individuals don’t even want treatment and even those who are caught don’t always respond.

With that in mind, allow me to present a not-quite-hypothetical scenario. What if, instead of prison or therapy, we gave offending criminals an option to undergo an invasive treatment that affects the primary source of their deviant behavior in the brain? Jail is still an option for those who aren’t keen on messing with their brain wiring, but for certain people, an alternative is an alternative.

What I just described is one of those concepts in which the science is there, but the technology and the courts haven’t caught up to it. I know whenever I talk about emerging technology, be it sex robots or artificial wombs, I venture pretty far into speculation territory. Some of these advances rely on science and tools that don’t yet exist. This isn’t one of those cases.

In July 2018, the Journal of Neuroscience published a study revealing that targeted stimulation of the prefrontal cortex reduced aggressive tendencies in test subjects. Before you start getting fever dreams of mad scientists strapping people to gurneys and sticking wires in their ears, you can rest easy. This isn’t the kind of electroshock treatment that find their way into one too many horror movies.

These treatments have ground-breaking implications. They prove that it’s possible to temper or mitigate certain behaviors in people. The study doesn’t specify the limits of the effects or if it can be applied to something other than aggressive behaviors. It’s still a proof of concept and one that could compound the impact of other emerging technologies.

We already have tools like CRISPR that allow us to tweak our genes. We also have companies like Neuralink that are actively working on implants that could fix, augment, or expand our brain capacity. While men like Elon Musk and Ray Kurzweil often discuss these advances within the context of keeping humanity on pace with artificial intelligence, there will likely be some interim uses for these technologies.

Tempering violent behavior in people with significant cognitive impairments is just one possible use, but one that has the potential to change how we think about crime and punishment. Think back to those people I mentioned earlier who just inherently violent. They can’t manage their emotions or control their anger. They don’t think before they act and some don’t even feel guilty about what they do.

Like it or not, these people exist. I’ve known people in my life who have terrible impulse control and fly into a rage over the smallest things. Some of those people have had issues with the law and I often see in them a sense of never-ending frustration. Many don’t like that they have these issues. A few have tried to get help, but it doesn’t always work.

I suspect that if some of those people were given a chance to treat their tendencies with targeted shock therapy or a brain implant, they would jump at the chance. Deviant tendencies aside, they seek some level of function in their lives. If tweaking their brain is the difference between prison and freedom, then they’ll take that risk.

Turning people who might have been unrepentant psychopaths into productive, non-violent members of society is an objective good. The technology to do just that is not that far off and more study could help us refine the process, so much so that prison might be less necessary in certain cases. Given how expensive it is to imprison people, it’s an alternative worth pursuing.

Along with that undeniable good, however, there are plenty of potential dangers. Anyone who has ever seen one too many psychological thrillers or just read “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” can easily imagine how this kind of technology could be abused.

Tempering someone’s violent behaviors is all well and good, but why would it stop there? The brain is capable of all sorts of behaviors, deviant and otherwise. Say a society determines that other non-violent behaviors, be it sexual promiscuity or binge-watching Netflix for too many hours, are not socially desirable. What’s to stop them from imposing this on their citizens?

Some countries probably already fantasize about technologies that enable them to directly pacify their citizens, rendering them weak, passive, and easily manipulated. In his famous novel, “1984,” George Orwell called these people proles. However, in the book, the deviants had to be tortured and re-educated. If Big Brother had access to this technology, it would be a simple medical procedure.

That has plenty of terrifying possibilities for abuse. What if someone uses brain stimulation to prevent people from having homosexual urges? What if someone uses it to treat those who identify as transgender? There’s no evidence that the techniques in the study would work on that, but there’s no evidence to say it’s impossible.

Its use will definitely be controversial. That much, I’m certain of. It’s not advanced enough to become a legitimate treatment for anything. At the moment, direct brain stimulation is utilized for a specified set of conditions and it’s often a last resort. Using it on healthy people who just want to cull their violent urges is uncharted territory.

Whether it enters the picture for criminal justice reform is anyone’s guess, but if the process works, someone who has dealt with one too many repeat offenders will try to use it. From there, the precedent will be set. It’s hard to say what form it’ll take, but it’ll take society into uncharted territory with respect to controlling our minds.

Perhaps, at first, the process would be voluntary and only be presented in conjunction with jail or some other treatment. It’s also possible that the courts will determine a strict set of criteria for when the state could force this treatment onto someone. There are probably a few repressive governments who would try to use this on an industrial scale. I won’t say they’re names, but most people know who they are.

Like any emerging technology, there are risks and rewards worth considering. We stand to benefit greatly by having a society with as few violent individuals as possible. We also stand to lose a great deal if we allow misguided authority figures to determine how we use this technology.

I’m not qualified to determine whether or not someone should have their brain hacked. I don’t know that anyone is. However, I also don’t deny that the human brain, as magnificent as it is, has plenty of flaws. We should go about fixing those flaws, especially in people who are disproportionately impacted by them. We just have to be very careful about how we manage it.

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Filed under futurism, human nature, psychology, sex in society, Sexy Future, Thought Experiment

How We’ll (Have To) Manage Love In A World Of Brain Hacking

Picture the following scenario. If you’ve ever been to a fairy tale wedding or if you’ve been part of some big romantic ceremony, you won’t need much imagination. You’ll just need to have been sober at the time that moment played out. Even if you haven’t, it should still be easy to picture.

It’s a beautiful moment. Two people are standing at an altar together, proclaiming their love for each other in front of friends, family, and whatever deities they happen to prefer. It all goes so well. There are tears of joy, heartfelt gestures, and powerful moments that will last a lifetime.

That all happens in this scenario. It plays out. It’s every bit as beautiful as I just described, and then some. Hold onto that sentiment because now I’d like to complicate it, but not in the way you think.

I already painted a similar scenario when I talked about the possibility of hacking the human brain to induce love and ensure two people only ever love each other. This is someone similar, but one that factors in the bigger picture that tends to dilute all romantic moments. Again, it’s not quite as unsexy as you think, but it’s close.

Go back to that scenario. It’s still every bit as happy and sincere as any non-arranged, non-shotgun marriage could possibly be. Then, just before the chosen holy man declares two people spouses, a state-licensed lawyer enters the room. Yes, I understand that already seriously undermines the moment. Bear with me. It’s about to get weirder and less sexy.

The lawyer isn’t there to ruin the moment. He or she is actually there because the law requires him to be there. They have a very simple, but very necessary job. Before two people can be declared spouses, complete with all the tax benefits and insurance perks that come with it, the lawyer has to make sure that nobody’s brain was hacked to crate false, insincere feelings of love.

I’ll give everyone a moment to scoff, roll their eyes, or just stare blankly in confusion. I understand completely. What I just described sounds like something out of a Matrix-themed wedding that went horribly wrong. I wish I could say it was just another one of my not-so-sexy thought experiments. Unfortunately, this scenario reflects a serious issue that we may have to confront.

Think about what that lawyer had to do in that situation. Beyond the innate anxiety that comes along whenever a lawyer gets involved in a situation, especially if you’ve been skimping on your taxes, they’re tasked with the legal equivalent of making sure a Disney-style spell isn’t at work here. They have to, for the sake of the law and basic human dignity, that the love someone professes isn’t false.

Why would they even have to do that in the first place? Well, if you’ve been following along on this blog, you’ve noticed I’ve been talking a lot about the sincerity of love and how false perceptions may impact those powerful emotions. Even before that, I’ve talked about the prospect of enhancing the human brain and using those advances to make us sexier and more romantic.

These kinds of enhancements have so much potential to change the way we love, make love, and forge romantic commitments to one another. It may very well change the kinds of love stories we tell. For me, a guy trying to make his career in the erotica/romance industry, it’s kind of important that I follow these advances.

With every advance, however, comes various legal, ethical, and morally ambiguous headaches that quickly turn into migraines when you consider the implications. In that context, few advances have more implications than brain enhancement.

Considering how easy our brains are to fool, it makes sense to enhance this organ over all others. Yes, that means our genitals too, even though they’re already getting their share of enhancements. Every romantic and sexy feeling we’ve ever had or experience starts in our brain. Enhance that and everything we know about sex, love, and marriage goes out the window and into an incinerator.

A person with a brain implant is inherently capable of love, passion, and sex appeal that exceeds anything our natural biology can match. If you’d don’t believe me, then ask a woman about the efficiency of her vibrator compared to that of her lover. It’s not a fair comparison, to say the least.

Like any tool humans have ever made, we’ll use brain implants and brain enhancement to improve our lives. That includes are sex lives as well. There’s a reason why it’s a huge chunk of the pharmaceutical industry’s profits. That’s where the legal issues come into play, but not in the way you might think.

The second someone puts anything in their brain that resembles a computer, it inherently becomes subject to hacking. It’s an inescapable and often underreported pitfall of the digital age in which we all so eagerly partake. If it has a computer in it, then it can be hacked. Chances are, it has been hacked at one point, probably far more than you’d want to know.

That kind of hacking is hard enough to deal with. Once the computers go in our brains, though, then the stakes go up considerably. It’s one thing to hack a website and plaster it with gay porn or dead kittens. It’s quite another to hack someone’s brain and affect the way they think, feel, and behave.

I don’t doubt for a second that those behind the brain implant industry, such as Neuralink, will do everything they can to prevent this. I also don’t doubt that there will be other, less ethical individuals will work just as hard to frustrate those people. I’m sure Elon Musk has nightmares about the kind of horrors hackers will unleash with brain implants. It makes his desire to go to Mars almost seem logical.

As such, we’re going to need new laws on the books to govern the use and impact of brain implants. That tends to happen with every major advancement. From cars to computers, a civilized society needs some mechanism for governing new technology. With brain implants, though, that mechanism may get unusually personal.

Think back to that scenario I described earlier. Now, imagine one of the individuals getting married was that bitter ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend from high school. I’m talking about the kind of person who will set fire to a car and send dead animals in the mail to someone who refuses to reciprocate or affirm their emotions.

Imagine that kind of person knowing it was possible to induce false emotions in someone. Like the evil prince or witch in every Disney movie, they have a mechanism for casting a real, non-magical love spell on someone to make them feel exactly what they want them to feel. Unlike the world of Disney, though, it won’t be undone by kissing a toad.

Given the insane lengths to which people will go for love, it’s entirely plausible that someone would use a brain implant to create fake emotions in people who refuse to love them willingly. It’s also plausible that those same people will push that kind of brain hacking to insane degrees.

It means someone could effectively rewire their spouse’s brain so that they act as a slave. Their entire sense of identity, will, and autonomy is subverted. Their entire lives are effectively stolen and controlled by the hacker. While they would not realize this until their brain was un-hacked, assuming that was possible, it would be the most coercive, manipulative act it’s possible to do to another person.

Granted, there may be some societies that wouldn’t mind this sort of thing. I’m sure there are sociopathic dictators in the world who would love to hack the brain of every citizen into loving them without question. For most ordinary people who aren’t in charge of their own countries, though, it’s a terrifying thought.

That means it will probably be necessary for both industries like Neuralink and major governments to deal with this possibility. It’s hard to know what form that will take. Perhaps every brain implant will require some sort of kill-switch. Perhaps certain functions need to be sanctioned and re-sanctioned by a doctor or official.

It’s hard to say and I’m certainly not smart enough to figure it out. I imagine men like Elon Musk and Bill Gates have already given it way more thought than I ever will. Whatever form it takes, though, it will force us to change our understanding of love, sex, and how we relate to each other.

The stakes our high, but the situation is simple. If we’re going to love each other and make love to each other in enhanced ways, then we had damn well better be sure those feelings are ours and not those of some asshole hacker.

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Filed under Marriage and Relationships, Sexy Future