It’s a common statement among psychiatrists and people who read too many self-help books that you can’t control your emotions, but you can control how you react to them. Most of us don’t look at that and think, “Well, yeah, but you don’t have a microchip in your brain! You could totally control your emotions with a microchip in your brain!” This is why DARPA recruits the “outside-the-box” thinkers.
Yes, the government’s mad science arm so terrifying Google bought an entire company just to take their robots away now wants to stick pieces of silicon in your brain. Well, not your brain, just the brains of the mentally ill, according to MIT’s Technology Review:
This week the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, awarded two large contracts to Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of California, San Francisco, to create electrical brain implants capable of treating seven psychiatric conditions, including addiction, depression, and borderline personality disorder.
“Imagine if I have an addiction to alcohol and I have a craving,” says Carmena, who is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and involved in the UCSF-led project. “We could detect that feeling and then stimulate inside the brain to stop it from happening.”
If you’re wondering why brain implants are of interest to the military, mental health issues are a serious concern among returning veterans. Suicide rates are three to four times the national average among current and former military personnel. So, if these operate as advertised, it could save lives. The fact that DARPA’s response to trauma and human suffering is to try cracking open your skull like a walnut and shoving implants in your brain to zap it into compliance is a bit more disturbing, though.
This is preliminary groundwork, but you don’t have to go very far to find troubling implications. First of all, we have no idea how the brain works, and sticking what amounts to a bug zapper in your noggin may not be the best idea, long term. Secondly, these brain implants are designed to be controlled remotely, if necessary. Gee, that couldn’t possibly end badly.
There is an ethics panel overseeing the research, since as we all know ethics panels in the military have absolute power and are always listened to. And it’s supposedly only intended as the last resort. That said, if we wake up in the Matrix and don’t have any superpowers, DARPA, we’re going to be upset.