18:34 26.04.2017(updated 18:41 26.04.2017) Get short URL
Thoughtcrime, George Orwell's nightmare neologism, popularized byhis seminal work 1984, is the criminal act ofholding unspoken beliefs or doubts opposing or questioning authority.
In the fictional Airstrip One, the Thought Police could only detect thoughtcrime offenses byrigorously monitoring the population's outward actions and statements forthe slightest indications ofdissent and disloyalty every minute ofevery day although they had no way ofknowing what if any recalcitrant views remained unspoken. The private thoughts ofthe public remained unobserved.
Fast forward to2017, technological advances mean machines can feasibly know the contents ofan individual's mind and bydefinition, the privacy ofone's brain is underthreat asa result.
Scientists atthe University ofNebraska have developed a device that can tell an individual's political persuasion. Facebook'sBuilding 8project aims todevelop an application that allows individuals totype just bythinking. Brain imaging technologycould be rolled outin courts withinthe next decade. Consumer firms use "neuromarketing" techniques tounderstand consumer thoughts, and structure bespoke campaigns.
Swiss ethicists Marcello Ienca and Roberto Adorno, writing ina paper inthe journalLife Sciences, Society and Policy, view the burgeoning ofsuch neurological applications asa positive development which offers "unprecedented opportunities," and do not angst overneurotechnology "intricately embedded inour everyday life."
However, the pair are extremely concerned aboutthe degree towhich such tech is susceptible toabuse both fromwithin and without, from "malicious brain-hacking" and "hazardous uses ofmedical neurotechnology."
If a neuro device was successfully hacked, a third party could effectively eavesdrop onan individual's thoughts, cause physical and psychological damage and even delete or steal memories or ideas. There are also ethical and legal concerns overthe protection ofdata generated bythese devices that need tobe considered.
As a result, they believe there needs tobe redefinition ofthe idea ofmental integrity, and have proposed four new human rights laws the right tocognitive liberty, mental privacy, mental integrity and psychological continuity. They warn current techniques are already so sophisticated people's minds might be being read or interfered withwithout their knowledge. Such intrusions may not even necessarily involve coercion, but "unauthorized modifications" ofa person's "psychological continuity."
If adopted, these rights could forexample prevent individuals fromenforced technological enhancement inNovember 2016, US military scientists reported a procedure called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) boosted the mental skills ofpersonnel, and there are suggestions it could become obligatory formembers ofthe armed forces intime.
"The mind is considered tobe the last refuge ofpersonal freedom and self-determination, butadvances inneural engineering, brain imaging andneurotechnologyput the freedom ofthe mind atrisk. Our proposed laws would give people the right torefuse coercive and invasive neurotechnology, protect the privacy ofdata collected byneurotechnology, and protect the physical and psychological aspects ofthe mind fromdamage bythe misuse ofneurotechnology," the authors write.
Presently, international human rights law do not mention neuroscience, although advances inbiomedicine, such asthose inrespect ofhuman genes, have often been entangled withlaws. The authors acknowledge that despiteseismic developments inneurotechnology, it is still perhaps premature toworry aboutmental hackers infiltrating people's minds and making offwith their bank details. Still, they believe it's best toget thinking aboutthese eventualities now, and ensure protections are inplace beforesuch things can and do happen, rather thanafter. As they make clear, humans cannot afford fortheir tobe lag beforesecurity measures are implemented.
"Science-fiction can teach us a lot aboutthe potential threat oftechnology. Neurotechnology featured infamous stories has insome cases already become a reality, while others are inching ever closer, or exist asmilitary and commercial prototypes. We need tobe prepared todeal withthe impact these technologies will have onour personal freedom. It's always too early toassess a technology untilit's suddenly too late," the authors concluded.
The researchers' suggestions are likely not tofall ondeaf ears. Many ofthe firms involved inneurotechnology are extremely sensitive aboutthe ethical implications oftheir work.
In unveiling Building 8, Facebook were quick tostress the division's products would not invade an individual's thoughts a concern that is heightened inFacebook's case, given the existing privacy issues surrounding the social network. Moreover, it has pledged toassemble an independent Ethical, Legal and Social Implications panel tooversee its developments. Institutional review boards ensure test subjects aren't being abused and research is being done assafely aspossible.
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