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

July 6, 2017, University of Pennsylvania
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

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3 / 5 (2) Jul 06, 2017
"'mind control' technologies"
No response yet from this site's tin foil hat crowd?
not rated yet Jul 06, 2017
This is a question that has been asked since the 1970s
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.
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:
It is measurable:

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

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