Recently, I was pointed to this article in the WSJ (“A Pentagon Agency Is Looking at Brains — And Raising Eyebrows“) by Sharon Begley. It touches on some noninvasive recording techniques for assessing affective state and cognitive enhancers like ampakine CX717 (previously mentioned on Neurodudes here and here).
It was the very last paragraph that caught my eye:
Ever since the atomic bomb, physicists have known that their work has potential military uses, and have spoken up about it. But on the morality of sending orders directly to the brain (of a soldier, employee, child, prisoner …), or of devices that read thoughts and intentions from afar, neuroscientists have been strangely silent. The time to speak up is before the genie is out of the bottle.
Whoa! To me, the physicists who spoke out early on against nuclear proliferation seemed (and still seem) both very courageous and prescient in their ideas. Are we neuroscientists dropping the ball? I would love to start a discussion on this subject and to hear your responses (both from neuro people and others) in the comments below.
I’ll start: I personally don’t think the arena of neural enhancement/intrusion (mind reading, mind control, cognitive enhancement, etc.) is comparable to the sheer destructive power of nuclear weapons. I do see in the near future the unfortunate potential for abuse of neurotechnology and violation of personal freedoms, but the threat does not seem as horrifying or deadly. Still, if neurotechnology allows governments greater control over their citizens, it seems reasonable that scientists who enable such technologies should intervene. Perhaps it is time for a neural bill of rights, which, similar to the freedoms granted by the US Bill of Rights, will clearly state what aspects of a person’s mental state or capacity cannot be infringed upon without permission from that person. Thoughts?