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Connect Your Brain To The Internet?

News For The Left | December 8, 2006

Today, the Center for American Progress hosted a panel titled "Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense." CAP Senior Fellow Jonathan Moreno, Ph.D. gave a run down on his book and fellow panelist Jennifer Bard, a law professor at Texas Tech University, gave a legal analysis of advances in neuroscience research as applied to real life situations.

The most shocking comment came from panelist Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D. when he said that it "is realistic that in ten to fifteen years, it could be possible to directly connect the human brain to the internet." He cited current research where neuroscientists are able to bypass lesions in the brain by connecting two sections of the brain by man made circuitry.

Despite such an earth shaking advancement being possibly a decade away, there exists no body of ethical oversight OR laws governing such research. The biggest sponsor of this type of research is the Federal Government, often funding scientific studies through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA.

Techniques currently in development include functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or fMRI. It takes pictures of brain activity in real time and is being used to learn reactions of the brain to figure out if someone is lying, their sexual orientation, if they have racist tendencies, if they are extroverted, and countless other things. It is the closest that we have come to "mind reading."

DARPA is funding an "Enhanced Human Performance" project. Augmenting cognition, or increasing brain function, is one of the goals of this project. This can be accomplished by inserting a chip in a soldier's brain and increasing the bandwidth of brain activity.

The drug Modanafil has also been developed and can keep people awake for days at a time without the need for sleep or calories. This has already been made available in the private sector under the name Provigil.

This barely scratches the surface of an emerging issue about which the Center for American Progress hopes to begin a public discussion. The potential implications of this issue on civil liberties is enormous. It warrants much scrutiny until acceptable legal and ethical standards are created. There should also be a balance between using these new advances for national defense and using it in the private sector where it can be used to improve the lives of everyday Americans.

 

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