Professors lead call for ethical framework for new 'mind control' technologies

July 6, 2017
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

As interventions for mental illnesses and neurological disorders are becoming increasingly powerful, an interdisciplinary group of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, American University and Duke University are calling for new safeguards to guide treatments and protect patients.

In a perspective article published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, they argue that these interventions should now be thought of as a form of "mind ." As such, neuroscientists, clinicians and bioethicists should begin looking toward the engineering discipline of control theory as a way to better understand the relationship between brain physiology and .

Control theory describes how dynamic, interconnected systems, such as the ones that govern an airplane or , work together to safely and efficiently deliver a desired outcome. Applied to the brain, it should guide treatments such that patients gain or maintain control over their own mental states as much as possible.

The Penn authors are John Medaglia, research assistant professor in the School of Arts & Science's Department of Psychology, and Danielle S. Bassett, Eduardo D. Glandt Faculty Fellow and associate professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science's departments of Bioengineering and of Electrical and Systems Engineering. They collaborated with Perry Zurn, assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at American University, and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Chauncey Stillman Professor in Practical Ethics in the Department of Philosophy and the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University.

"While we don't believe," Bassett said, "that the science-fiction idea of mind control, totally overriding a person's autonomy, will ever be possible, new brain-focused therapies are becoming more specific, targeted and effective at manipulating individuals' mental states. As these techniques and technologies mature, we need systems in place to make sure they are applied such that they maximize beneficial effects and minimize unwanted side effects."

"Most treatments we employ already have overlapping effects," Medaglia said. "Drugs for Parkinson's disease boost motor function but can also make patients more impulsive. As drugs and other interventions get more powerful, we want to guide them so patients maintain as much autonomy as possible. And, in situations where unwanted side effects are unavoidable, patients should be fully informed what those changes in their mental states might mean for them."

As advances in molecular biology and chemical engineering are increasing the precision of pharmaceuticals, even more spatially-targeted technologies are emerging. New noninvasive treatments send electrical currents or magnetic waves through the scalp, altering the ability of neurons in a targeted region to fire. Surgical interventions are even more precise; they include implanted electrodes that are designed to quell seizures before they spread, or stimulate the recall of memories after a traumatic brain injury.

Research into the brain's "wiring"—how neurons are physically connected in networks that span disparate parts of the brain—and how this wiring relates to changing mental states has enabled principles from control theory to be applied to neuroscience. For example, a recent study by Bassett and colleagues shows how changes in brain wiring from childhood through adolescence leads to greater executive function, or the ability to consciously control one's thoughts and attention.

While insights from network science and control theory may support new treatments for conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder and , the researchers argue that clinicians and bioethicists must be involved in the earliest stages of their development. As the positive effects of treatments become more profound, so do their potential side effects.

"New methods of controlling mental states will provide greater precision in treatments," Sinnott-Armstrong said, "and we thus need to think hard about the ensuing ethical issues regarding autonomy, privacy, equality and enhancement."

"Pairing network neuroscience and promises to provide greater precision in clinical care," Zurn said. "As this work develops from an ethically-informed perspective, it will prompt better mental health-care policies and a stronger cultural appreciation of the body-mind continuum."

The authors see their article itself as emblematic of the trajectory this work must take: neuroscientists, bioethicists, philosophers and physicians coming together to prepare for the opportunities and challenges these new technologies will introduce.

Explore further: Brain networking: Researchers use brain scans to determine the mechanism behind cognitive control of thoughts

More information: John D. Medaglia et al. Mind control as a guide for the mind, Nature Human Behaviour (2017). DOI: 10.1038/s41562-017-0119

Related Stories

Brain networking: Researchers use brain scans to determine the mechanism behind cognitive control of thoughts

October 1, 2015
The human brain does not come with an operating manual. However, a group of scientists from UC Santa Barbara and the University of Pennsylvania have developed a way to convert structural brain imaging techniques into "wiring ...

Researchers identify brain network organization changes

May 25, 2017
As children age into adolescence and on into young adulthood, they show dramatic improvements in their ability to control impulses, stay organized, and make decisions. Those executive functions of the brain are key factors ...

How the brain's wiring leads to cognitive control

October 6, 2015
How does the brain determine which direction to let its thoughts fly? Looking for the mechanisms behind cognitive control of thought, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, University of California and United States ...

Burden of physical health conditions linked to increased risk of suicide

June 12, 2017
Suicide continues to be a major driver of mortality in the United States. Each year, more than 45,000 people die by suicide and in the past 15 years, the suicide mortality rate has risen by an alarming 24%. A new study in ...

Why teen mental ability surges while brain shrinks

June 6, 2017
(HealthDay)—Scientists say they have an answer to a persistent and quirky puzzle about brain development.

Research identifies brain network that controls spread of seizures

September 13, 2016
A flurry of coordinated activity in a brain-spanning network of neurons may sound like the formation of a brilliant new idea, but it is actually the description of a seizure. Understanding why and how this synchronization ...

Recommended for you

Faulty support cells disrupt communication in brains of people with schizophrenia

July 20, 2017
New research has identified the culprit behind the wiring problems in the brains of people with schizophrenia. When researchers transplanted human brain cells generated from individuals diagnosed with childhood-onset schizophrenia ...

Scientists discover combined sensory map for heat, humidity in fly brain

July 20, 2017
Northwestern University neuroscientists now can visualize how fruit flies sense and process humidity and temperature together through a "sensory map" within their brains, according to new research.

Scientists reveal how patterns of brain activity direct specific body movements

July 20, 2017
New research by Columbia scientists offers fresh insight into how the brain tells the body to move, from simple behaviors like walking, to trained movements that may take years to master. The discovery in mice advances knowledge ...

Team traces masculinization in mice to estrogen receptor in inhibitory neurons

July 20, 2017
Researchers at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have opened a black box in the brain whose contents explain one of the remarkable yet mysterious facts of life.

Speech language therapy delivered through the Internet leads to similar improvements as in-person treatment

July 20, 2017
Telerehabilitation helps healthcare professionals reach more patients in need, but some worry it doesn't offer the same quality of care as in-person treatment. This isn't the case, according to recent research by Baycrest.

New study reveals contrasts in how groups of neurons function during decision making

July 19, 2017
By training mice to perform a sound identification task in a virtual reality maze, researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia (IIT) have identified striking contrasts in how groups of neurons ...

5 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

TrollBane
3 / 5 (2) Jul 06, 2017
"'mind control' technologies"
No response yet from this site's tin foil hat crowd?
dirk_bruere
not rated yet Jul 06, 2017
This is a question that has been asked since the 1970s
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Jul 06, 2017
"While we don't believe," Bassett said, "that the science-fiction idea of mind control, totally overriding a person's autonomy, will ever be possible


Implant something into their pain centers and see how that works. I'm betting that you could make someone do just about anything.
carbon_unit
not rated yet Jul 06, 2017
Or more subtly, mess with their perceptions.
Spaced out Engineer
not rated yet Jul 06, 2017
It is real: http://www.bigger...den.com/
It is measurable: http://imgur.com/gallery/eRDW3
https://www.wired...oves-pa/

I am targeted individuals and all the media has done is write fluff pieces. Vice is owned by the media and they even made some crap fluff documentary to discredit the cause. There have been documented medical cases of implants as well as law suits for electronic harassment. There have been shootings.
Here is an unclassified document pretty much saying if you are intelligent your are a threat to your fushion center: http://www.soc.mi...2014.pdf

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.