Introducing: The Internet of… Brains?
By Michael Ashley and Robert Edward Grant
Owen McClain liked to think of himself as a modern rebel. Someone who didn’t follow orders. A computer programmer by trade, he was also an early adopter. That meant he liked to get the newest gizmos before anyone else.
In this case, the goody in question was a hot new brain chip from DataStarr. Among its many cool features was something special, something no other implant had ever promised.
Called Renaissance, it allowed users to become true “Renaissance People” by acquiring myriad skills on the fly. For example, though Owen had never played the guitar before and was quite tone-deaf, he could become as good as Jim Hendrix after downloading the rockstar program. Likewise, Owen could become a chef master on par with Gordon Ramsey in an afternoon—despite no prior formal training—all by downloading the chefstar program.
The first week with Renaissance unfolded like a dream. Owen had never felt so passionate about life. It was as if a key had opened a lock, availing him to all kinds of mental treasures. He could read War in Peace in minutes. He could sew his own designer clothes. He could build a custom muscle car.
But then six months later, Owen got into a fender bender on the 405. It was Owen’s fault. Ever the nonconformist, he tried to squeeze through a rush hour bottleneck by taking the shoulder service road. When a truck cut him off, road rage overpowered Owen.
Seeing red, he tailgated the offending motorist. When the truck unexpectedly stopped, Owen plowed into him from behind, totaling both vehicles.
Here’s the surprising part of this story: The judge assigned to this traffic matter had come to appreciate developing science on how small changes in neurochemistry can produce profound medical benefits.
Once he learned Owen had already downloaded Renaissance and that part of the application’s interface allowed for such mental tinkering, he gave Owen a choice. “You can agree to have the state modify your baseline contrarian tendencies—through the app—or you can pay the fine and go to traffic school.”
The competing parts of Owen’s psyche dueled it out. While the early adopter in him wondered what it would be like to manipulate his own brain, his rebellious streak jumped up and down, shrieking that this was a mistake—that such changes could permanently affect his decision-making abilities.
“So, what it’ll be?” asked the judge.
A month later, Owen found himself back again on the interstate at rush hour. This time when a Prius came out of nowhere, nearly slamming into Owen, his heart rate didn’t rise. In fact, he was 100% relaxed about the whole thing. He even smiled to let the car pass.
No more rebel. Hello, model citizen.
Lost in the crush of so much recent news about the Twitter Files is another big story involving Elon Musk, one people aren’t talking about enough: That the world’s richest man could start human trials of Neuralink brain implants next year.
Even when discussions do ensue on this topic, the usual rationale given as to why we should chip our brains is typically couched in innocuous medical terms. Such research will prove helpful for people with spinal cord injuries or Alzheimer’s Disease, goes the conventional talking points.
But as the above cited Forbes article makes clear, there are other objectives involved: “The central premise of Neuralink is that it will be able to read our minds. How will it do that? According to their website, Neuralink will be designed to connect to thousands of neurons within our brains.”
Read our minds? Is that how far we’ve come with emerging technology? Will it soon be possible to spy on people’s most private thoughts? Futurist and author of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noel Harari sure thinks so. In May 2020, Harari opined the following for Al Jazeera, “We are at a watershed moment where surveillance is no longer limited to what we do, but how we feel.”
Harari’s words are critical to understanding the threat we face from centralized control exposed in our new book Neuromined: Triumphing over Technological Tyranny (Fast Company Press 2023). Many people can wrap their heads around external surveillance—CCTV cameras recording our movements. They may also understand how social media companies profile us, spying on the photos and updates we post online.
But does the public understand what’s coming next? According to Harari, COVID-19 opened the door for governments and big tech to surveil people internally: What’s going on in our bodies, including our white blood cell count, our blood sugar level, even our body fat percentage. And of course, what’s happening in our brains.
Even if you buy into the need for such investigations of your person, possibly for health reasons, Harari and others present future use cases so dystopian they appear to come out of a horror film. Here’s one: In the future, the links you read online will read you. Using Neuralink-type tech, it will be possible to gauge someone’s reaction to what they read by scanning their brain.
This is the kind of internal surveillance Harari speaks of. For as he says, “But what if surveillance systems can actually go under your skin as you are reading or watching it? Perhaps your TV is watching you and a biometric bracelet on your wrist is measuring your body temperature, your blood pressure, your heart rate. They can know not only what you are reading or watching but how it makes you feel.”
As the final coup d'état, Neuralink and other brain-manipulating tech threaten to undermine human sovereignty in ways we can scarcely imagine. It sounds like something out of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, but in the future, we may have little need for prisons and law enforcement because a chipped populace literally cannot resist.
Sound far-fetched? Already, the US Military has been experimenting with AI-based brain implants to control people’s moods.
For now, it’s uncertain what’s more frightening: That such paradigm-shattering tech is coming online—or that no one seems to be talking about it? We here at The Sovereignty Assembly believe it’s the latter. But we mustn’t lose heart. The very fact we are engaging in this discussion, empowers us to alter future events. For example: If you don’t subscribe to the idea humans are meant to be controlled through their minds like automatons, get involved. Tell others what’s going on. Alert your local media. Start a petition against these infringements. Create a law to challenge them in court.
After all, we are sovereign beings and we deserve to be afforded such dignity. It’s our human birthright.
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