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cYberEthics: Hacking the Brain and Body

Updated on October 14, 2013

What if?

Imagine this. You are sitting in a public transportation vehicle, minding your own business. You glanced at the elderly gentleman reading a paper and the young person with the big antenna sticking out of their laptop nearby when you sat down, but didn't really pay much attention. Perhaps you paid a bit more attention when the attractive individual sat down next to the elderly gentleman. The vehicle makes another stop, then moves on.

Suddenly, the elderly gentlemen lashes out with his arm and strikes the attractive person next to him a vicious blow in the head. As they slump to the seat, he strikes them repeatedly, and begins shouting that he isn't doing this, that it's not his fault. People begin jumping up and screaming, and the vehicle shudders to a halt as the driver brakes. The young person jumps away from the elderly man, closes their laptop, and pushes their way out of the door.

Who did it?
Who did it? | Source

Fiction? Mystery? Or fact?

Expecting an insanity plea, or mental breakdown claim? Sound like a suspense drama? Or perhaps the beginning of a murder mystery?

Or just maybe you are looking at real life, the headlines of the very near future, just a few years or even mere months down the road. In our fictional story, the elderly man is most likely going to jail for murder, or attempted murder. Unless someone discovers that the elderly man is an amputee with a robotic prothesis in place of his arm, and that the young person with the laptop used the wireless to remote access the control device for the arm and feed it false signals... the elderly man will serve time, innocent of the crime he (or rather, his arm) was effectively made to commit.

At one time, this would have been science fiction. Now, it is merely fictional because the technology to accomplish this story is already here. As science progresses, we have reached the cusp of achieving true mind-machine interfaces (MMI). In fact, there already exist games and toys which depend upon scanning your brainwaves in order to control and use them(1). And in research and development labs today, prototype MMI devices have already been built, and are allowing humans to mentally control the limbs of living animals(2), as well as mentally control artificial limbs(3).

Who is to blame?

Who should be held responsible?

See results

Who is at fault?

Who should bear the blame for this heinous, if fictional, act? It may seem natural to think that the one who remotely controlled the artificial limb should bear the blame, but look at the current views being debated on weapons and responsibility. Gun activists would have you believe that only the person wielding the weapon should be held to blame, after all, most guns cannot shoot themselves. Anti-gun activists, however, seem to be seeking to make everyone involved with the gun responsible, from the shooter, to the seller of the gun and bullets... perhaps even the manufacturer of the pieces, as a way to curtail misuse of guns.

Regardless of one's views on that matter, it is only mentioned in order to illustrate the point that the laws have not been made yet that adequately cover real situations, currently happening today! And if we cannot agree on how to handle something which has been happening for decades, how then can we expect our laws and lawmakers to handle a complex situation with cutting edge technology as described in our fictional story above?

More people than ever before are using technologically advanced assistive devices.
More people than ever before are using technologically advanced assistive devices. | Source

The Reality

More people are using technologically assistive devices every day. Wheelchairs and powered scooters for mobility, artificial limbs for both mobility and manipulation, artificial organs to assist failing or weak organs, complete replacement of damaged or missing parts, artificial devices to communicate over great distances, store and recall data, play games, and even artificial enhancement or alteration of the body to change or normalize appearance.

However, most of these devices have little to no security whatsoever, nor do the medical machines which program said devices in the first place(4). The technologies used to access the controls of these medical devices is publicly accessible, the most common types of which are wireless access of various sorts, infra-red, ultrasonic, and direct connection.

For purely mechanical augmentations and those with direct wired access only, it is less of an issue; but with the increasing number of electronic and computerized assistive and corrective devices using non-invasive access methods, it is an unavoidable and inevitable issue which will soon become someone's deadly reality.

Times are changing, and so are we.
Times are changing, and so are we. | Source

Paradigm Shift

In fact, the attitude about artificial limbs is changing. In times past, many would automatically assume that a person with an artificial limb was somehow "less of a person", even the amputee themself. Whether it is an artifact of advancing technology, or because of greater societal awareness through social media, the way that amputees are viewed, and what is assumed that they can and cannot accomplish, is changing.

Through various sources of popular media, humans accomplishing incredible things are becoming widely known: a blind man learning echolocation and skateboarding freely around town, a man with no arms learning martial arts and accomplishing everything with his feet that others would with their hands, and many many more.

There are even people who find that artificial limbs are more convenient and look better than what they were born with, or lost through accident or injury5. Some would even volunteer to replace their natural limbs with artificial ones, if they were given the opportunity.

The (Very) Near Future...

Not only the body, but the brain is becoming more accessible. The technology is being developed today to read a person's mind, and decode their dreams while they sleep6. What will happen once your thoughts become accessible to a computer? Will you be able to read email with your mind? What happens if a cyber-virus, trojan, or malware advertisement gets into your head and rewrites your thoughts?

We literally stand at the threshold of a new movement, that of cyber-enhancement. What laws should we draft to protect those who wish to alter themselves, and those who wish to remain natural? How will differences in areas such as employment, race, beauty, ethnicity, and contests be adjudicated between those with enhancements and those without? How will societies and religions react to those who change what they started out with? How powerful will these enhancements be permitted to be - superhuman, or merely human? How will we protect people from having their body, or their brain, hacked and controlled by others?

Where do you stand on these issues?


References 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 & other related links.


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