It was only a matter of time.
There’s been much news as of late about the good that’s come from the brain-computer interface (BCI) in the realms of medicine, art, music, and gaming. Of course, though, for all the more personal benefits BCI has to offer, there are equally as many potential downsides to the rise of these technologies.
As reported recently by IEEE Spectrum, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has authorized two sizable grants to Battelle, an Ohio-based tech firm that is developing a BCI that “relies on magnetoelectric nanoparticles injected into the brain.” This would be all fine and good, save for this nearly 40 million dollar infusion is to develop BCI explicitly for defense purposes.
The development of such technology for purely defensive purposes is, yes, a reasonable endeavor, or at least it is until one considers the definition of “defensive action” (read: pre-emptive strike) shifts depending entirely on who controls the weapons in question.
This dynamic has played itself out countless times over the course of history, and fiction, too, has seen its fair share of cautionary tales about promising technology falling into (or being developed by) the wrong hands.
Consider chapter two of Imminent Dawn, in which ruthless tech magnate Wyatt Halman meets with top politicos from the North American Union government. In this scene, the bureaucrats with whom Wyatt speaks aim to purchase access to his EMPATHY brain-computer interface technology in order to use it for “defensive purposes.”
Wyatt, however, sees through this, refusing to trust the NAU with a technology as promising as EMPATHY. When he rebuffs the government’s offers, the mood in the room takes a dark turn, with the Union’s envoys suggesting they’ll stoop to nefarious means—and possibly already have—in order to get their hands on this technology.
Back in the real world, we’re not quite as close to the widespread integration of the brain-computer interface as is the case in the EMPATHY-verse. Still, though, one might consider following Battelle’s developments over the course of the coming years, despite however little information might actually be made public about their progress.
BCI could become the new drone program, for example, and one need not look far to discover dozens upon dozens of tales where the misuse of those technologies has led to the deaths of hundreds of innocent people.
For now, accountability at the ballot box, protest, and civil disobedience remain effective ways to communicate one’s dissatisfaction with government action, though the efficacy of the latter two might be called into question when those quelling protests have access to a BCI and those protesting do not.
Despite how grim of a picture this paints, there are reasons to remain hopeful about BCI technologies, some of which can be seen throughout the EMPATHY sci-fi saga (though it certainly emphasizes the downsides, too). If you’d like to dive into the saga’s first two installments, you can find links to them both below.
And stay tuned, I’ll be covering a great deal more about the BCI on this blog in the coming months and years.