Connection Unlocks Possibilities, Both Good and Bad
February 8, 2017
the possibilities that could be unlocked by hooking up your brain to a
Science fiction has explored this idea in many films, including the
upcoming movie MindGamers, in which students create a wireless neural
network that can link people's minds through a quantum computer. It
allows people to transfer motor skills from one brain to another, but
also opens the door for mass mind control.
In the real world, research toward a brain-computer interface is under
way, and one of the possible applications can help change lives.
"The most fundamental good is restoration of function for people who
have limited capabilities," explained computational neuroscientist Tim
Mullen. "Let's say a paraplegic can't move, allowing them to walk
Mullen said his company, Qusp Neurotechnologies, is working on a
platform to digitally link a person to the cloud and, from there, to any
internet-connected device, such as a multiplayer brain-controlled game.
Mullen said a type of mediated telepathy, or brain-to-brain
communication, may also be in the future.
"Currently we can do this in rats. ... First experiments in humans have
been demonstrated, in a very limited way, and … in the coming decades we
will actually be able to have brain-to-brain communication between
humans," Mullen said.
Joanne Reay, writer and producer of MindGamers, sees connecting minds to
the cloud as a good thing.
"The need of the ego to put oneself first is redundant in our society,"
she said. "And that would be a benefit if that could just fall away like
a monkey tail."
But with the good comes the potential for bad, some say.
"This rosy picture, yes we can get there, but in doing so, we will
enable this whole other dark side, and we need to plan for it and we
need to have some mitigating strategies for it," said Todd Richmond, at
the University of Southern California Institute for Creative
Richmond, director of the institute's Advanced Prototype Development,
works with emerging disruptive technologies and warns that internet
hacking and other criminal behaviors will be magnified as scientists
pursue certain types of innovation.
"We have anonymity. We have online stalking. We have harassment. We have
the capabilities of some kid in a country 5,000 miles [8,000 kilometers]
away having a very real impact on society, hacking power grids, hacking
monetary systems," Richmond said. "Part of the challenge is a lot of the
innovation right now is driven by the commercial sector, and in that
case their focus is on profitability and getting a product out there and
getting the new capability, a new shiny object that they want to excite
the consumer to buy. For them, moral and ethical repercussions are not
necessarily part of their development timeline."
Mullen agreed, pointing out, "There is a very strong code of ethics
that's inherent in our academic and scientific institutions to not do
harm to people, to use our best judgement as we make discoveries. But
that being said, science is a process of being on the edge. You don't
know what the outcome is going to be of the technology you're building.
You don't know how it will be used. The responsibility lies on society
to use that technology for good."
Richmond added, "But technology has become so sophisticated and so
complex that it's very difficult for members of society or policymakers
to really understand what's going on inside the black box. So now, more
than ever, it's really critical that the scientist and the technologist
be part of that conversation about ethics and morals and where is this
technology heading in society."
Through the movie, filmmakers present one possible view of a world in
which this technology exists.
"We aren't perfect and we will make mistakes and the people who are
designing the tech have to have the right mindset or they can take this
in a direction we don't want to go," said Andrew Goth, director of
Scientists will soon be able tell how audiences respond when 1,000
people watch the film on March 28, and participate in an experiment
wearing cognition headbands. Cloud technology makes this mass mind-state
said that data gathered from the experiment will help scientists answer
the questions of what makes people similar and different.
"We'll be looking at some interesting stuff, where we're looking at how
the similarities in their brain activity map onto other aspects like
their demographic groups or their socio-psychological traits," he said.
"So if you're an extrovert, is your brain like another extrovert in some
way? Do you tend to respond in the same way when you're watching a
But whether brain-computer interface technology will be a blessing or a
curse to society is yet to be determined.