By Daniel Taylor
Life extension technology, artificial intelligence, and an expansive “internet of things” are just a few of the topics that the latest report from the National Intelligence Council, “Disruptive Civil Technologies – Six Technologies with Potential Impacts on US Interests out to 2025“.
Earlier reports from the CIA and the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense have carried similar themes. The December 2000 CIA report, Global Trends 2015 stated that nation’s borders would weaken in the process of globalization, with an elite reaping the benefits,
“Scenario Two: Pernicious Globalization Global elites thrive, but the majority of the world’s population fails to benefit from globalization… migration becomes a major source of interstate tension… Internal conflicts increase, fueled by frustrated expectations, inequities, and heightened communal tensions…”
The MoD strategic trends 2007-2036 report covers life extension technologies, stating that a divide may rise between those who can afford to extend their lifespan, such as dictatorial rulers,
“Developments in genetics might allow treatment of the symptoms of ageing and this would result in greatly increased life expectancy for those who could afford it. The divide between those that could afford to ‘buy longevity’ and those that could not, could aggravate perceived global inequality. Dictatorial or despotic rulers could potentially also ‘buy longevity’, prolonging their regimes and international security risks.”
The National Intelligence Council’s latest report outlines trends in technology that will shape the world to come in 2025. Among the technologies covered is the development of the Internet of Things. The Internet of things, also often referred to as “ubiquitous computing” is currently being tested and showcased in South Korea, where the technology developers admit that there are less expectations of privacy. The Internet of Things (IoT) will enable the tracking and tracing of everyday objects and people in a vast network similar to the internet. Ultimately, the “U-City” model of South Korea will be exported world-wide. PR campaigns for the U-City are already underway in the United States.
Watch this ABC News clip as the “convenience” of the technology is emphasized:
The NIC report on the internet of things states that by 2010, the ability for “Teleoperation and telepresence: ability to monitory and control distant objects” will be achieved. Among the various goals of the Internet of Things technology developers include:
“Sensor networks need not be connected to the Internet and indeed often reside in remote sites, vehicles, and buildings having no Internet connection. Smart dust is a term that some have used to express a vision of tiny, wireless-connected sensors; more recently, others use the term to describe any of several technologies that range from the size of a pack of gum to a pack of cigarettes, and that are widely available to system developers.
Ubiquitous positioning describes technologies for locating objects that may reside anywhere, including indoors and underground locations where satellite signals may be unavailable or otherwise inadequate.
Biometrics enables technology to recognize people and other living things, rather than inanimate objects. Connected everyday objects could recognize authorized users by means of fingerprint, voiceprint, iris scan, or other biometric technology.”
The use of RFID tags embedded in everyday objects is the standard approach to achieving the internet of things vision. But, perhaps ominously, technology is being developed that would actually eliminate the need for RFID tags, while still allowing for the tracking of objects and people with the same efficiency. “Machine Vision”, as the NIC report states, “…could be a channel for delivering the same type of information that RFIDs enable.”
“Machine vision is an approach to the IoT that can monitor objects having no onboard sensors, controllers, or wireless interfaces. For example, some developers propose that cameras on typical cell phones can capture images of objects; using image-processing algorithms, distant servers can identify such objects and report information about them. In other words, machine vision could be a channel for delivering the same type of information that RFIDs enable.”
The surveillance element of this technology will allow for “…everyday objects to be channels for surveillance, consumer surveys, measuring environmental-quality benchmarks, and any other continuously changing dimension of the world that people find valuable to track.”
There can be little doubt that a surveillance grid has been erected and is expanding every day. The next upgrade to this tracking grid will undoubtedly be spun with a “consumer convenience” approach.
The REAL brain drain: Modern technology – including violent video games – is changing the way our brains work, says neuroscientist
By SUSAN GREENFIELD – Last updated at 22:17pm on 9th May 2008
Human identity, the idea that defines each and every one of us, could be facing an unprecedented crisis.
It is a crisis that would threaten long-held notions of who we are, what we do and how we behave. It goes right to the heart – or the head – of us all.
This crisis could reshape how we interact with each other, alter what makes us happy, and modify our capacity for reaching our full potential as individuals.
And it’s caused by one simple fact: the human brain, that most sensitive of organs, is under threat from the modern world.
Video games are weakening the ability to think for ourselves
Unless we wake up to the damage that the gadget-filled, pharmaceutically-enhanced 21st century is doing to our brains, we could be sleepwalking towards a future in which neuro-chip technology blurs the line between living and non-living machines, and between our bodies and the outside world.
It would be a world where such devices could enhance our muscle power, or our senses, beyond the norm, and where we all take a daily cocktail of drugs to control our moods and performance.
Already, an electronic chip is being developed that could allow a paralysed patient to move a robotic limb just by thinking about it.
As for drug manipulated moods, they’re already with us – although so far only to a medically prescribed extent.
Increasing numbers of people already take Prozac for depression, Paxil as an antidote for shyness, and give Ritalin to children to improve their concentration.
But what if there were still more pills to enhance or “correct” a range of other specific mental functions?
What would such aspirations to be “perfect” or “better” do to our notions of identity, and what would it do to those who could not get their hands on the pills? Would some finally have become more equal than others, as George Orwell always feared?
Of course, there are benefits from technical progress – but there are great dangers as well, and I believe that we are seeing some of those today.
I’m a neuroscientist and my day-to-day research at Oxford University strives for an ever greater understanding – and therefore maybe, one day, a cure – for Alzheimer’s disease.
But one vital fact I have learnt is that the brain is not the unchanging organ that we might imagine.
It not only goes on developing, changing and, in some tragic cases, eventually deteriorating with age, it is also substantially shaped by what we do to it and by the experience of daily life.
When I say “shaped”, I’m not talking figuratively or metaphorically; I’m talking literally.
At a microcellular level, the infinitely complex network of nerve cells that make up the constituent parts of the brain actually change in response to certain experiences and stimuli.
The brain, in other words, is malleable – not just in early childhood but right up to early adulthood, and, in certain instances, beyond.
The surrounding environment has a huge impact both on the way our brains develop and how that brain is transformed into a unique human mind.
Of course, there’s nothing new about that: human brains have been changing, adapting and developing in response to outside stimuli for centuries.
What prompted me to write my book is that the pace of change in the outside environment and in the development of new technologies has increased dramatically.
This will affect our brains over the next 100 years in ways we might never have imagined.
Our brains are under the influence of an ever- expanding world of new technology: multichannel television, video games, MP3 players, the internet, wireless networks, Bluetooth links – the list goes on and on.
But our modern brains are also having to adapt to other 21st century intrusions, some of which, such as prescribed drugs like Ritalin and Prozac, are supposed to be of benefit, and some of which, such as widelyavailable illegal drugs like cannabis and heroin, are not.
Electronic devices and pharmaceutical drugs all have an impact on the micro- cellular structure and complex biochemistry of our brains. And that, in turn, affects our personality, our behaviour and our characteristics. In short, the modern world could well be altering our human identity.
Three hundred years ago, our notions of human identity were vastly simpler: we were defined by the family we were born into and our position within that family. Social advancement was nigh on impossible and the concept of “individuality” took a back seat.
That only arrived with the Industrial Revolution, which for the first time offered rewards for initiative, ingenuity and ambition.
Suddenly, people had their own life stories – ones which could be shaped by their own thoughts and actions. For the first time, individuals had a real sense of self.
But with our brains now under such widespread attack from the modern world, there’s a danger that that cherished sense of self could be diminished or even lost.
Anyone who doubts the malleability of the adult brain should consider a startling piece of research conducted at Harvard Medical School.
There, a group of adult volunteers, none of whom could previously play the piano, were split into three groups.
The first group were taken into a room with a piano and given intensive piano practise for five days. The second group were taken into an identical room with an identical piano – but had nothing to do with the instrument at all.
And the third group were taken into an identical room with an identical piano and were then told that for the next five days they had to just imagine they were practising piano exercises.
The resultant brain scans were extraordinary. Not surprisingly, the brains of those who simply sat in the same room as the piano hadn’t changed at all.
Equally unsurprising was the fact that those who had performed the piano exercises saw marked structural changes in the area of the brain associated with finger movement.
But what was truly astonishing was that the group who had merely imagined doing the piano exercises saw changes in brain structure that were almost as pronounced as those that had actually had lessons.
“The power of imagination” is not a metaphor, it seems; it’s real, and has a physical basis in your brain.
Alas, no neuroscientist can explain how the sort of changes that the Harvard experimenters reported at the micro-cellular level translate into changes in character, personality or behaviour.
But we don’t need to know that to realise that changes in brain structure and our higher thoughts and feelings are incontrovertibly linked.
What worries me is that if something as innocuous as imagining a piano lesson can bring about a visible physical change in brain structure, and therefore some presumably minor change in the way the aspiring player performs, what changes might long stints playing violent computer games bring about?
That eternal teenage protest of ‘it’s only a game, Mum’ certainly begins to ring alarmingly hollow.
Already, it’s pretty clear that the screen-based, two dimensional world that so many teenagers – and a growing number of adults – choose to inhabit is producing changes in behaviour.
Attention spans are shorter, personal communication skills are reduced and there’s a marked reduction in the ability to think abstractly.
This games-driven generation interpret the world through screen-shaped eyes. It’s almost as if something hasn’t really happened until it’s been posted on Facebook, Bebo or YouTube.
Add that to the huge amount of personal information now stored on the internet – births, marriages, telephone numbers, credit ratings, holiday pictures – and it’s sometimes difficult to know where the boundaries of our individuality actually lie.
Only one thing is certain: those boundaries are weakening.
And they could weaken further still if, and when, neurochip technology becomes more widely available.
These tiny devices will take advantage of the discovery that nerve cells and silicon chips can happily co-exist, allowing an interface between the electronic world and the human body.
One of my colleagues recently suggested that someone could be fitted with a cochlear implant (devices that convert sound waves into electronic impulses and enable the deaf to hear) and a skull-mounted micro- chip that converts brain waves into words (a prototype is under research).
Then, if both devices were connected to a wireless network, we really would have arrived at the point which science fiction writers have been getting excited about for years. Mind reading!
He was joking, but for how long the gag remains funny is far from clear.
Today’s technology is already producing a marked shift in the way we think and behave, particularly among the young.
I mustn’t, however, be too censorious, because what I’m talking about is pleasure. For some, pleasure means wine, women and song; for others, more recently, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll; and for millions today, endless hours at the computer console.
But whatever your particular variety of pleasure (and energetic sport needs to be added to the list), it’s long been accepted that ‘pure’ pleasure – that is to say, activity during which you truly “let yourself go” – was part of the diverse portfolio of normal human life. Until now, that is.
Now, coinciding with the moment when technology and pharmaceutical companies are finding ever more ways to have a direct influence on the human brain, pleasure is becoming the sole be-all and end-all of many lives, especially among the young.
We could be raising a hedonistic generation who live only in the thrill of the computer-generated moment, and are in distinct danger of detaching themselves from what the rest of us would consider the real world.
This is a trend that worries me profoundly. For as any alcoholic or drug addict will tell you, nobody can be trapped in the moment of pleasure forever. Sooner or later, you have to come down.
I’m certainly not saying all video games are addictive (as yet, there is not enough research to back that up), and I genuinely welcome the new generation of “brain-training” computer games aimed at keeping the little grey cells active for longer.
As my Alzheimer’s research has shown me, when it comes to higher brain function, it’s clear that there is some truth in the adage “use it or lose it”.
However, playing certain games can mimic addiction, and that the heaviest users of these games might soon begin to do a pretty good impersonation of an addict.
Throw in circumstantial evidence that links a sharp rise in diagnoses of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and the associated three-fold increase in Ritalin prescriptions over the past ten years with the boom in computer games and you have an immensely worrying scenario.
But we mustn’t be too pessimistic about the future.
It may sound frighteningly Orwellian, but there may be some potential advantages to be gained from our growing understanding of the human brain’s tremendous plasticity.
What if we could create an environment that would allow the brain to develop in a way that was seen to be of universal benefit?
I’m not convinced that scientists will ever find a way of manipulating the brain to make us all much cleverer (it would probably be cheaper and far more effective to manipulate the education system).
And nor do I believe that we can somehow be made much happier – not, at least, without somehow anaesthetising ourselves against the sadness and misery that is part and parcel of the human condition.
When someone I love dies, I still want to be able to cry.
But I do, paradoxically, see potential in one particular direction.
I think it possible that we might one day be able to harness outside stimuli in such a way that creativity – surely the ultimate expression of individuality – is actually boosted rather than diminished.
I am optimistic and excited by what future research will reveal into the workings of the human brain, and the extraordinary process by which it is translated into a uniquely individual mind.
But I’m also concerned that we seem to be so oblivious to the dangers that are already upon us.
Well, that debate must start now. Identity, the very essence of what it is to be human, is open to change – both good and bad. Our children, and certainly our grandchildren, will not thank us if we put off discussion much longer.
• Adapted from ID: The Quest For Identity In The 21st Century by Susan Greenfield, to be published by Sceptre on May 15 at £16.99. To order a copy for £15.30 (p&p free), call 0845 606 4206.
Source: Daily Mail
New Instruments of Surveillance and Social Control: Wireless Technologies which Target the Neuronal Functioning of the Brain
by Dr. Kingsley Dennis
Global Research, March 9, 2008
Increasingly there are indications that the uses of wireless technologies have been developed to target an individual’s biological body, with specific focus upon the neuronal functioning of the brain. In this paper I examine how some of these uses have had detrimental effects, and what this implies for both present and upcoming developments for particular wireless/sensor technologies. I consider whether this is not shifting dangerously towards a psycho–civilised society, where greater emphasis is placed upon social control and pre–emptive strategies.
The rate of technological innovation in some fields is developing exponentially with new advances in wireless sensor networks, ubiquitous and pervasive computing, motes, nodes, grids, and media platforms. Information flows are increasing not only in their quantity and density, but also in their immersive quality. The historical developments of information communication systems can be said to have traced a similar path to how nation states have organised their global power base and dominance. First, power over the land and dominance in waging war on one’s neighbours through ground battle, the domesticated horse and the infantry soldier. Second, domination of the seas and the strongest Navy gave advantage to sea–faring Empires, such as Portugal, Spain, and Britain. The end of naval dominance then gave rise to the advent of the railroad and the dynamic change in transport technology, both in routes and in speed. The transcontinental scope of the railroads finally gave out to air power, winning the World Wars through dominance in the skies. And now, finally, the ‘final frontier’ is space, for ‘the vast potential resource base of outer space is presumably so enormous, effectively inexhaustible, that any state that can control it will ultimately dominate the earth’ .
Likewise, modern communication technologies have moved from the land (the telegraph); to the sea (wireless radio; radar); back to land (cables; fibre optics); and to the intermediate land/air stage (masts/antenna); to the outer frontier of space (satellites); and finally now even beyond these frontiers towards a solar system Internet (Turner, 2007). Whoever controls these channels for communication can, in some degree, to be said to ‘dominate the earth’. And the possible uses of wireless communications for the dissemination, targeting, and receiving of clandestine ‘communications’ is an active industry.
The aim of this paper is to examine some of the examples and instances where the use of wireless technologies have been developed to target an individual’s biological body, with specific focus upon the neuronal functioning of the brain. I also show how some of these uses have had detrimental effects, and what this implies for both present and upcoming developments in particular wireless/sensor technologies. This paper shows that an upcoming area of importance is neurotechnology, a discipline that places brain functioning and knowledge of the human brain as primary. Technologies are now being researched and trialled that seek to penetrate and, to a degree, intervene in neural functioning. Whilst some have termed this positively as a coming ‘neural society’ (Lynch, 2004), I consider whether this is not shifting dangerously towards a psycho–civilised society, where greater emphasis is placed upon social control and pre–emptive strategies. I trace a timeline that follows developments from a historical context to the present; and finally to future scenarios and implications. It may be that the social pursuit of increasingly connective and immersive technologies has the potential to open up a Pandora’s box of problematics.
Opening Pandora’s box
The background to this narrative begins with the story of a true Pandora’s box — a U.S. project titled Project Pandora that was organized and administered by the psychology division of the psychiatry research section of Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR). This project was set–up to specifically research programs on the health effects of microwave exposure following the ‘Moscow Embassy’ incident. From 1953 to 1976, the Soviets directed microwave radiation at the U.S. embassy in Moscow from the roof of an adjacent building. Whilst this clandestine microwave targeting was allegedly known for some time by U.S. officials, the event was not made public until 1976 when the U.S. State Department finally accused the Soviet Union of bombarding the U.S. embassy in Moscow with microwave radiation for illicit purposes. It was initially reported as a harmless procedure for charging Soviet spy–bugs: ‘Soviet antennas, which are beaming the waves in both to charge up the batteries of their listening devices and to jam embassy–based U.S. electronic monitoring of Russian communications’ (Time, 1976a; 1976b). However, the State Department soon indicated that, in addition to interference mechanisms, the microwave radiation could have serious adverse effects on the health of the occupants of the embassy (O’Connor, 1993). This was supported by Soviet data in which Soviet non–ionising electromagnetic energy (NIEM) ‘research literature reported adverse health effects in laboratory animals and in Soviet radar workers at levels well below the 10 mW/cm2 U.S. ANSI safety recommendations’ . Despite this being below the U.S. recommended levels the Soviet standards excluded military personnel whilst the U.S. did not, according to the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP), 1986 (O’Connor, 1993).
Soviet studies in the area of electromagnetic microwave radiation reported psychological symptoms in human subjects that included lethargy, lack of concentration, headaches, depression, and impotence . O’Connor notes how the Soviet medical journals termed these collective symptoms microwave sickness whilst the U.S. literature referred to the symptoms as neurasthenia (1993). Time magazine reported in March 1976 that the State Department launched
It is interesting to note that the Report authors believed the Soviet research to be in the area of ‘reorientation’; suggesting that the U.S. were worried over concerns that the Soviets may be planning a mass zapping of U.S. citizens with the hope of ‘brainwashing’ them into a newly orientated ideological outlook. The 174–page Report is extensive, with much material extended upon various forms of beamed energies and wireless strategies. On the opening section on Electromagnetic Energy the report concludes that
During this time the U.S. establishment was not naïve to the potential of conducting neurological at–a–distance effects upon human behaviour.
In the 1970s José Manuel Rodríguez Delgado was a controversial figure in neuroscience; a professor of physiology at Yale University, he was an acclaimed neuroscientist. In 1970 “the New York Times Magazine hailed him in a cover story as the impassioned prophet of a new ‘psychocivilized society’ whose members would influence and alter their own mental functions” . Yet two decades earlier, in 1952, Delgado co–authored the first peer–reviewed paper describing long–term implantation of electrodes in humans (Horgan, 2005). As an example of the achievement into wireless–neurological devices Delgado’s most famous experiment took place in 1963 at a bull–breeding ranch in Cordoba, Spain. Delgado implanted radio equipped electrodes, which he termed ‘stimoceivers’, into the brains of several ‘fighting’ bulls and stood in a bullring with one bull at a time and attempted to control the actions of the bull by pressing buttons on a handheld transmitter. In one instance Delgado was able to stop a charging bull in its tracks only a few feet away from him by the press of a button. The New York Times published a front page story on the event, “calling it ‘the most spectacular demonstration ever performed of the deliberate modification of animal behavior through external control of the brain’” . In 1969 Delgado described wireless brain–behaviour modification and its implications in his book Physical Control of the Mind: Toward a Psychocivilized Society (1969). Delgado’s research during this time was supported not only by academic grants but also by the U.S. Office of Naval Research. This research is now over forty years old, and much has happened in the intervening four decades.
Beams, firewalls and brain scanning: Inside the military–industrial complex
Researcher Igor Smirnov of the Russian Academy of Sciences is by all accounts an odd person, referred to by a Newsweek article as ‘A Subliminal Dr. Strangelove’ (Elliott and Barry, 1994). Smirnov was apparently contacted by the FBI during the Davidian sect siege in Waco, Texas in 1993. Experts from the FBI Counter–Terrorism Center met with Smirnov in Arlington, Virginia to discuss ways of affecting the behaviour of Davidian sect leader David Koresh. Smirnov’s plan was to send subliminal messages through the phone lines during negotiations; and for targeting David Koresh the plan was to use the voice of Charlton Heston to subliminally play God (Elliott and Barry, 1994). Smirnov’s strategies, whilst sounding eccentric, are closely tied with military research into behaviour modification via wireless transmissions. Smirnov’s laboratory in Moscow is named the Institute of Psycho–Correction and using electroencephalograph scanning (EEG) he measures brain waves which he then computes to create a map of various human impulses–brain waves correlation. This data can then be used for experimenting upon affecting brain–body modification at–a–distance. Asked in a 2004 interview whether it was possible to defeat terrorism Smirnov replied that
Military strategist Timothy Thomas examined these implications in his paper ‘The Mind Has No Firewall’ in which he states that ‘We are on the threshold of an era in which these data processors of the human body may be manipulated or debilitated. Examples of unplanned attacks on the body’s data–processing capability are well–documented’ . He references a Russian military article on the same subject which declared that “‘humanity stands on the brink of a psychotronic war’ with the mind and body as the focus” . The context here is that the human body is a complex communication system that is constantly receiving signal inputs, both external and internal. Thus,
Military thinking in this area is beginning to shift towards a systemic viewpoint which considers the human as an open system rather than as a closed, bounded system.
In this new systemic approach the human communicates with, and can be communicated by, the environment through information flows and communications media. By this understanding military thinking has begun to openly declare that ‘one’s physical environment, whether through electromagnetic, gravitational, acoustic, or other effects, can cause a change in the psycho–physiological condition of an organism’ . Simpson’s investigations into the sociological discipline of communication research, which crystallised in the U.S. in the early 1950s, shows that it was financed and mentored by governmental psychological warfare programs:
Dominance over the airwaves, and the capability to exert coercive control over information communications is a vital area in military planning. Documented and declassified evidence shows that what may have begun as a program in standardized propaganda and psychological warfare has now developed into research on wireless information targeting and ‘psychocivilized’ control practices. To this effect the term ‘psycho–terrorism’ was coined by Anisimov of the Moscow Anti–Psychotronic Center and Anisimov admits to testing such devices as are said to ‘take away a part of the information which is stored in a man’s brain. It is sent to a computer, which reworks it to the level needed for those who need to control the man, and the modified information is then reinserted into the brain’ . In such cases there is concern that the ‘mind has no firewall’ and may be vulnerable to accidental, unwanted and/or rogue interventions. Thomas’s paper concludes by stating that ‘In reality, the game is about protecting or affecting signals, waves, and impulses that can influence the data–processing elements of systems, computers, or people. We are potentially the biggest victims of information warfare, because we have neglected to protect ourselves’ .
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) brief on this subject titled ‘Controlled Effects’ also noted the power to use the electromagnetic spectrum for wirelessly interfering into human subjects’ thinking and behaviour. By this stage the strategy had been dubbed ‘non–lethal weapons’, as explored more fully in the work of non–lethal defence at Los Alamos by retired Army Colonel John B. Alexander (Alexander, 1999). The AFRL report states that
These theories and concerns to affect command and control at–a–distance were echoing the conclusions from a much larger and significant military report that was published and made available in 1996 titled ‘New World Vistas’. ‘New World Vistas’ was a major undertaking by the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board to examine future developments in weapons, and totalled 14 volumes of studies. The fifteenth ‘ancillary’ volume concluded by putting forth some potential developments for a possible future man–machine integration. In a section dealing with ‘Biological Process Control’ the Report states that
In military–speak the term ‘experience set’ implies a person’s stored memories and life experiences; thus suggesting that such a technology could delete and then replace a person’s memories, or ‘experience set’. Research and development along these lines have so far materialised a technology dubbed by the military as active denial system (ADS).
The Active Denial System is a non–lethal, directed–energy weapon system recently unveiled by the U.S. military and which directs, or pulses, electromagnetic radiation at a frequency of 95 Gigahertz (GHz) towards the target subjects. The radiated beam of millimetre–wave energy can travel over a range of 500m and heats the water molecules in the epidermis skin up to 54C (130F) (BBC, 2007). The result can be an intensely painful burning sensation. Such a system was designed for such uses as crowd control. A fully operational and mounted system was demonstrated to journalists by U.S. military personnel at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, on 24 January 2007. A Reuters correspondent who volunteered to be shot with the beam during the demonstration described it as ‘similar to a blast from a very hot oven — too painful to bear without diving for cover’ (BBC, 2007). The diagram below illustrates the active denial system (ADS).
These technologies show uses of wireless–to–body communication and directed energy weapons for possible military attack or defence purposes. Another area for research and development is in both military and industrial uses for operator enhancement.
Real–time brain scanning of pilots and similar operators under stress is an increasingly active area for research involving military and industrial partnerships. Since the early 1990s research has been made into detecting and interpreting brain and body signals, especially brainwaves, for computerized monitoring of pilots. This information can be used to measure pilot fatigue and to compensate for this with increased automation of the airplane in order to avoid pilot error. Initially this was conducted by measuring the pilot’s brain waves through unobtrusive sponge sensors in the flight helmet:
Researchers have said that the brain can ‘register’ up to 145 flickers per second, which can then be followed up by beaming a near infrared light into the subject’s eye, causing a spot of light to be reflected off the cornea in order to track eye movement and measure the degree of pilot concentration. This type of research, which is still ongoing, has been referred to by at least one current R&D laboratory as ‘Real–Time EEG for Operator State’ . Brain monitoring of people in situations where fatigue could be fatal now involves real–time analysis and observation of motorists. A technology now being considered is one called ‘Sensation’.
This research and these innovations indicate that a shift is occurring in how the human is enmeshed into an increasingly information saturated environment. These developments recognise that the human body is itself becoming the most capable data–processing subject. The rest of this paper explores how these trends to envelop the body–brain into an environment of information flows are being developed into social and commercial applications.
Emotional gaming and dangerous intentions: Inside the social–civil sphere
The use of EEG brain scanning has now moved into the gaming industry with up–to–date developments in sensory gaming. Recently Emotiv publicly released information on their upcoming ‘Project Epoc’, a developmental technology that interprets electrical signals emitted by the brain and converts them into actions on a computer. In this way the user/gamer is able to direct actions via their thoughts in the online environment. Below are pictures of two prototypes which the company expects to market some time in 2008 .
The company Web site claims that they provide the ultimate human–computer interface and that they are pioneers in brain computer interface technology. In their press release of 7 March 2007 they state that
In the same press release the company foresees in the future that ‘Emotiv’s technology has the potential to be applied to numerous industries, including interactive television, accessibility design, market research, medicine, and security’ . A similar corporate gaming company, NeuroSky, claims to have gone even further than Emotiv and reduced ‘the brainwave pickup to the minimum specification imaginable — a single electrode. Existing versions of this electrode are small enough to fit into a mobile phone and … they will soon be shrunk to the size of a thumbnail, enabling people to wear them without noticing’ (Economist, 2007). The company Web site claims its ‘bio sensor and signal processing system for the consumer market’ will unlock ‘worlds of new applications such as consumer electronics, health, wellness, education and training’ .
Clearly there is a potential commercial market envisioned here for wireless–brain technology that goes beyond the sphere of gaming. Somewhat on the extreme to this, wireless acoustic transmissions have now been developed to ‘stop’ people from over–gaming; in other words, as a treatment for gaming addiction. In highly technologised Asian countries such as South Korea teenagers are spending an unhealthy amount of time at their computers in gaming environments. There have even been instances where gamers have died after extensively long sessions in front of a computer without a break, such as in MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role–Playing Game). South Korean company Xtive, established in 2005, spent a year of research to develop a system of acoustic sound waves that act as subliminal transmissions during the gaming experience:
This emphasises that research into techno–information flows are increasingly being developed that wirelessly interact with a person as a biological construct, utilising the already present bio–neural functioning. And this is a trend that is attracting more corporate players wishing to enter the field.
Gaming giant Sony Corporation has submitted and been granted a patent on a device for transmitting sensory data directly into the human brain. Sony’s patent describes the device as firing “pulses of ultrasound at the head to modify firing patterns in targeted parts of the brain, creating ‘sensory experiences’ ranging from moving images to tastes and sounds” (Hogan and Fox, 2005). This is based upon a technique known as transcranial magnetic stimulation that activates the nerves by using rapidly changing magnetic fields to induce currents in brain tissue. The patent also claims that this technology could give blind or deaf people the chance to see or hear. Niels Birbaumer, a neuroscientist at the University of Tübingen in Germany who has himself developed similar devices, examined the Sony patent and commented that ‘I looked at it and found it plausible’ (Hogan and Fox, 2005). Since Sony’s initial patent application in 2000 (granted in March 2003), a series of further patents have been applied for. However, this line of research is not totally new.
For several years there has been research conducted into decoding thoughts from the brain for sending signals to an external device such as manipulating cursors on a screen, which has been developed for disabled people, as in the case of Matthew Nagle (Pollack, 2006). In recent years several other companies have emerged claiming to offer brain–computer wireless interaction for either gaming purposes or for various health impairment benefits. One example is S.M.A.R.T. BrainGames, a company based in California that offers EEG caps designed to treat people with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. The company claims to offer superior neurofeedback technology at what it calls ‘affordable prices’ . The body–brain is increasingly shifting towards becoming a biologically–enhanced data processor for wireless reception and transmission. Computer software giant Microsoft is aware of this and already ahead of the game.
In 2004 Microsoft was awarded U.S. Patent 6,754,472, titled ‘Method and apparatus for transmitting power and data using the human body’ . In this patent Microsoft is granted exclusive rights to a technology that uses the electrical capacity of the human body to act as a computer network (Adam, 2004). Microsoft envisages ‘using the human skin’s conductive properties to link a host of electronic devices around the body, from pagers and personal data assistants (PDA) to mobile phones and microphones, although the company is uncharacteristically coy about exactly what it may have in mind’ (Adam, 2004). This supports what Bill Gates himself has said about the computer finally disappearing into the environment and the world around us (Gibson, 2005). This may be the ultimate wireless network, using the complete skin of the body, from fingers to toes, receiving and transmitting flows of information. The patent also proposes that an area of skin could even act as a keypad making a person capable of typing by tapping on their arm (Adam, 2004).
This is a powerful example of how technologies and technological thinking is shifting away from external hardware devices towards using the natural bio-properties of the human body for integration into a global informational environment. As way of some examples, here are just two from many of the patents filed that claim to develop wireless transmission technologies: patents 4,395,600 and 5,507,291. Patent No. 4,395,600 is titled ‘Auditory subliminal message system and method’ and is geared towards subliminal messaging to influence consumer shoppers:
In a similar manner for affecting an individual’s mental state is patent no. 5,507,291 — ‘Method and an associated apparatus for remotely determining information as to person’s emotional state’ — which comes very close to what has been discussed on military uses of information warfare:
In this scenario information flows are two-way with the body-brain emitting as well as receiving. Yet with the human body–brain becoming a site for data transfer and reception, there are concerns that it is increasingly becoming a target for various corporate interests. And not only corporate interests are involved in these developments, however, for there are also recent innovative technologies in this area that offer serious implications for social privacy and liberty at a state level.
At first the idea sounds like nothing more than science fiction. Indeed, it even appeared as a central feature in the film ‘Minority Report’. This is the notion of pre–cognition: to be able to know a person’s actions before those actions are committed. Yet now a team of neuroscientists have developed a technique that can scan a brain and learn from the patterns of neuronal activity what a person is thinking or intending to do. This research is the culmination of recent studies where brain imaging has been used to identify particular brain patterns pertaining to such behaviour as violence, lying, and racial prejudice (Sample, 2007). To achieve this the team ‘used high–resolution brain scans to identify patterns of activity before translating them into meaningful thoughts, revealing what a person planned to do in the near future’ (Sample, 2007). This is the first acknowledged instance of having the technical capacity to judge whether people have the intention to commit a criminal act regardless of actual hard physical evidence of the crime. According to Prof Haynes: ‘We see the danger that this might become compulsory one day, but we have to be aware that if we prohibit it, we are also denying people who aren’t going to commit any crime the possibility of proving their innocence’ (Sample, 2007). Since this technology is so new there are no current ethical or moral debates on this issue and the implications for its civil use are worrying. If developed these ‘techniques may eventually have wide–ranging implications for everything from criminal interrogations to airline security checks. And that alarms some ethicists who fear the technology could one day be abused by authorities, marketers or employers’ (Cheng, 2007).
A hypothetical situation in the future might place these scanning devices within regular x–ray scanning machines at airports. On passing through to the passenger lounge all travellers will be scanned not only for potentially dangerous physical objects but also for dangerous intentions. Yet who has not had a ‘dangerous intention’? Or rather, to quote a more familiar phrase: ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone’ . In this manner all travellers will have to safeguard their thoughts at all times; who is to know whether such scanning devices are embedded into the walls of the airport lounge and corridors? Or in the toilets; on board the airplane? This uncertain and somewhat dystopian scenario is one that could shift technologised states into psycho–civilised societies where thoughts and intentions become part of terrorist discourse. This could be seen as an extreme case of convergence between the social compromises required to facilitate efficient physical–digital infrastructures and the need for securitised mobilities (Wood and Graham, 2006). It also resembles the extremity of constructing an all–inclusive technological web of complex information flows that bypasses traditional forms of interface.
This sees a shift away from earlier prototypes of the hardware–heavy cyborg, such as the early ‘wearcam’ work of Steve Mann , towards people actively engaging with their informational environments both in terms of security and surveillance. In some ways these developments have contributed to a rise in acts of self–surveillance, or sousveillance.
Fears over security and safety have reached new levels in the opening decade of the twenty–first century. It is, in all respects, a post–millennium state of insecurity. The older and more familiar paradigms of warfare and security were based upon binaries (e.g., Democracy vs. Communism; friend vs. foe). To some degree this binary distinction is still maintained and played out in media and cultural discourse as Freedom vs. Anti–Freedom, or West vs. Islam. Yet upon deeper scrutiny this manifests as an asymmetrical arrangement: order/authority vs. guerrilla non–compliance. A terror suspect can therefore no longer be easily identified as ‘the enemy’ which requires that all civilians be categorised in a state of ‘potential terrorist’. This is especially so since the notion of ‘home–grown terrorist’ is playing out the role of insurgency and resistance from within. This subtle shift in categorisation has seen a parallel move in the increase of the militarization of the civil sphere. By this I argue that civil space is increasingly becoming a ‘censor/sensored zone’ where security issues — surveillance, tracking, identification — are played out.
This zone, which mobile bodies pass through and negotiate, is characterised by a pervasive field of information, code, and signifiers that increasingly constructs the ‘social’. Such a coded environment has the potential to be extremely intrusive and goes beyond the normal ken of so–called civil liberties. Under the sway of a post September 11 scenario and amid an orchestrated ‘war on terror’ many of these intrusive technologies are in rapid development, so much so that the U.K. Government’s Information Commissioner himself states that we live in a surveillance society (Information Commissioner, 2006) . These systems of tracking and tracing surveillance involve step changes that are taking place gradually in many industrialised societies, especially in the U.S. and the U.K. .
Developments in sensor technologies and ubiquitous computing often focus on the interfaces between person and environment such that interconnectivity is likely to become more pervasive, intrusive, and ‘everywhere’. In a seminal essay from 1996 computer engineers Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown coined the term ‘ubiquitous computing’ and envisioned the ‘social impact of imbedded computers may be analogous to … electricity, which surges invisibly through the walls of every home, office, and car’ (Weiser and Brown, 1996). True to form, within a decade from this pronouncement computing interfaces developed from fixed locations of access to increased wireless connectivity. And it is predicted to become ever more ubiquitous in a manner that will dissolve connectivity into embedded environments (Greenfield, 2006). Greenfield considers this to be, in one form or another, an inevitability, and refers to this ubiquitous computing (ubicomp) paradigm as ‘everyware’: “Everyware is information processing embedded in the objects and surfaces of everyday life … the extension of information–sensing, –processing, and –networking capabilities to entire classes of things we‘ve never before thought of as ‘technology’” . This in turn is likely to trigger the ‘always–on’ surveillance of people in both public life and in private affairs. This inevitably blurs the boundaries between what is external and what is internal, and leads to forms of surveillance that turn inwards and emanates from the ‘self’ — an idea somewhat akin to that of sousveillance.
Sousveillance was coined by Mann (1998) who describes it as form of ‘reflectionism’ or as a ‘watchful vigilance from underneath’, which is a form of inverse surveillance. Yet it more than inverses the notion; it embellishes it with a self–reflective responsibility. For Mann, reflectionism “holds up the mirror and asks the question: ‘Do you like what you see?’” (Mann, et al., 2003). Also, in this form, it requires that surveillance is enacted as a form of self–control, as self–maintenance. It is the discipline of being inwardly secure; firstly vigilant towards the self; secondly towards other people/selves. This form of discipline seems to suggest that there is little room for negligence when watchfulness is the order of the day. Yet it also prompts the ‘user’ of sousveillance to be active and participate in the surrounding environment. Sousveillance, whilst it can encourage social responsibility, also suggests the need for the person to be guarded against unwanted intrusions and possible violations.
Mann went on to transmit, in the mid ’90s, his daily life experiences for others to experience and interact with. This created opportunities for establishing a sousveillance network between Mann and his ‘readers’, or rather social network. This participatory/social panopticon into human–environment interactions was a forerunner to how ‘wearable computing’ might one day emerge as a form of modern ‘intelligent image processing’ (Mann, 2002). Mann’s performance constructs a lived experience where the observation, recording, and dissemination of civic events have shifted towards a social panopticon, infiltrating daily physical encounters. It is a communal watchfulness of civil responsibility merged with a technical mandate for collective commentary, social analysis, and security of the self. It is also an enactment of performance ethnography, at the same time playful with notions of socialisation and breaching norms (Mann, et al., 2003).
However, the question this raises, I argue, is whether social domains might not be in danger of becoming over–sensory realms, and what may emerge as the most convenient and/or efficient strategy for coping with this. Stross’s (2002) essay ‘The Panopticon Singularity’ considers this trend in a dystopian fashion as ‘the emergence of a situation in which human behaviour is deterministically governed by processes outside human control’. Stross argues, reminiscent of Foucault, that while the effectiveness of societal surveillance is dependent on the number of people involved ‘systems of mechanised surveillance may well increase in efficiency as a power function of the number of deployed monitoring points’ (Stross, 2002). In other words, as more people join the social panopticon, or sousveillant society, this will have a knock–on effect that encourages more people to join the securitisation of the self, rather than being left vulnerable and un–sensored.
There is no denying that such panopticon devices are proliferating — they are carried around with us, increasingly as our own willing appendages. The debates at present are largely centred on surveillance, as state practices of pervasive and ubiquitous top–down monitoring of civil space, rather than forms of self–monitoring, as in sousveillance. Perhaps the next step will be further towards practices of immersive surveillance and control, as indicated in this paper as a psycho–civilized society.
The current surge in research and development of wireless sensor networks is likely to have a significant future impact upon not only how the human body is configured in terms of medical applications but, perhaps more importantly, how the human is cognitively configured in terms of the information–rich environment. One of the scenarios of ubiquitous, pervasive computing is to embed the environment with non–invasive informational systems that merge physical–digital infrastructures. Already much of our atmosphere is saturated with informational flows in various spectrum bandwidths — we are constantly walking through TV programs, mobile phone conversations, and even military broadcasts. Yet we are not decoding these transmissions. The transformation that these various scenarios in this paper suggest is that the human body is becoming re–configured — or re–wired — into a biological antenna. Not only will this greatly facilitate our access onto the Net but will also re–form the human presence, or identity, into a coded wavelength. A wavelength that is more readily readable to various technologies. This may seem far–fetched yet such a future may not be a far leap away.
Socio–technical evolutionary trends predict a future that is wholly immersed in and conversant with an integral informational–digitised environment. Informational flows are envisioned to go beyond the bits and bytes of present computing into the qubits (quantum bits) and subatomic circuitry of quantum computing (Schwartz, et al., 2006). Researchers into quantum computing are working with subatomic spins for exponential and staggering computational capacity. A possible future may look a little like this:
Perhaps the most common prediction prevalent amongst computer engineers is that computers — pervasive and non–perceptible — will be seeded and woven throughout the environment. They will be painted onto walls, on furniture and objects, inside the body, ‘communicating with one another constantly and requiring no more power than that which they can glean from radio frequencies in the air’ (Schwartz, et al., 2006). Quantum researcher and physicist Stuart Wolf anticipates that the next two decades will usher in a type of communications he calls ‘network–enabled telepathy’. Despite the fanciful name the method basically involves wearable devices (such as a ‘quantum headband’) sharing identity and downloaded information with others in the person’s social network; and all driven by the power of thought alone. However, as Wolf points out, ‘it will probably take a new generation raised to think of quantum headbands as normal for its potential to be truly realized’ (Schwartz, et al., 2006). Yet Wolf isn’t alone in his thinking.
Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson has speculated upon the possibility of what he calls radioneurology. Radioneurology refers to a hypothetical future technology of observing neural processes inside a brain by means of locally deployed radio transmitters (Dyson, 1997). For this to be feasible, speculates Dyson, requires a technology to allow for the building and deployment of small transmitters inside a living brain similar to integrated circuit technology on a silicon chip:
Given these speculations, and what has been discussed in this paper, it is likely that the major technology for the future is neurotechnology. The information age that emerged out of post–war technologies, and which has guided most of the technologies of the early twenty–first century, has made it possible to collect, utilize, and transfer information/data at unparalleled speeds. Communication, information, and data have been flowing at exponential rates. However, they are yet to merge into a systemic environment.
Neurotechnologies are set to change this with the rise of ‘nanobiochips’ and brain imaging and scanning technologies that will eventually lower the cost of neurological techniques and analysis as well as making the procedures efficient and profitable. Neurotechnologies, combined with wireless sensors, may possibly usher in a communications revolution greater than that caused by the arrival of the transistor and the microchip. Zack Lynch, executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO), writes that ‘When data from advanced biochips and brain imaging are combined they will accelerate the development of neurotechnology, the set of tools that can influence the human central nervous system, especially the brain’ (Lynch, 2004). Although neurotechnologies are likely to be put to therapeutic and medical uses, such as for improving emotional stability and mental clarity, they also open opportunities for intrusive strategies of control and manipulation.
Part of this paper has been focused on the dangers of an increasingly wireless world. These dangers may include the potential for invasive technologies, based upon transmitted/received signals and wavelengths, to shift social order towards a psycho–civilized society. By psycho–civilised I mean a society that manages and controls social behaviour predominantly through non–obvious methods of psychological manipulations, yet at a level far beyond that of the ‘normalised’ social manipulations of propaganda and social institutions. What I refer to are the technologised methods of psychological interference and privacy intrusions in the manner of creating a docile and constrained society. And here this brings us back to the problematics involved in opening a Pandora’s box.
In this paper I have asked whether innovations in wireless and neuro–technologies are not in danger of shifting human behaviour towards a psycho–civilised society, where greater emphasis is placed upon forms of social control and pre–emptive strategies. What are the moral and ethical implications of using wireless scanning surveillance technologies for evaluating pre–emptive behaviour based on thoughts and intentions alone? Is this not a dangerous path towards psycho–terrorising the social public? As Thomas (1998) reminds us, the mind has no firewall, and is thus vulnerable to viruses, Trojan horses, and spam. It is also vulnerable to hackers, cyber–terrorists, and state surveillance. Whilst this may sound a little too far out, they are reasonable questions to ask if technologies are racing ahead of us in order to better get into our heads.
Becoming wireless also means becoming increasingly immersed within an information–saturated environment. From the evidence of present trends and developments it seems likely that a greater systemic interconnectedness and interdependence is being formed between human–object–environment facilitated through and by information flows. This may herald the coming of a ‘wonderful wireless world’, yet it may also signal unforeseen dangers in protection, privacy, and security of the human biological body within these new relationships. It is the suggestion of this paper that such issues and concerns need to become more public, visible, and open; the very opposite of these technologies.
Kingsley Dennis is a Research Associate in the Centre for Mobilities Research (CeMoRe) based at the Sociology Department at Lancaster University, U.K. His doctoral work focused on complexity theory and information communication technologies. Post–doctoral research now involves examining physical–digital convergences and how these might impact upon social processes. He is concerned with the digital rendition of identity and the implications of surveillance technologies.
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| Global Research Articles by Kingsley Dennis