Neurotechnology, Social Control and Revolution

Neurotechnology, Social Control and Revolution

By Ahmed El Hady


In our neuro-centric world-view, a person is equated to his brain. The neuro-discourse has penetrated all aspects of our lives from law to politics to literature to medicine to physics.  As part of this neuro-revolution, huge military funding is supporting neuro-scientific research; a huge body of basic knowledge on memory, belief formation, cognition and sensory modalities has been gathered over years, with fields like social neuroscience, cultural neuroscience, neuroeconomics and neuromarketing has emerging to improve our lifestyle; neurotechnological know-how from wireless non invasive technologies to neuroelectronic interfaces is exponentially advancing; and neurotechnology business reports indicates the rapid increase in neurotechnological start ups and the willingness of bringing neurotechnological products to the market.

In my opinion, all the aforementioned indicators indicate that neurotechnology can be potentially used to control social dynamics. At the same time, neuro-technological advancements could nourish our dissidence and creativity – potentially making us more revolutionary.

Revolution means the process of radical changes on all levels of the society and in all domains of knowledge. The revolutionary potential can be defined as the capability to realize these radical changes. The revolutionary potential is usually developed within an educational space that nurtures critical thinking, dissidence and creativity. But dissidence and creativity are both mandatory for the revolution to happen. Dissidence embodies the dissatisfaction about the status quo and the turmoil for change. Creativity is the engine that fuels our dissidence by giving us the ability to imagine alternative realities and transcend the strictures of our lived reality.

I would like to focus here on three neuro-technologies that Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been funding and actively pursuing research on it. The first project revolves around narrative networks. The project aims to detect potential security threats and to protect vulnerable people from being recruited by terrorists through analysis of people narratives in the context of national security. They want to study how story telling indoctrinates people with dangerous ideas and how does propaganda shape your mind. But on the other side, analysis of your narratives on social networks and in your daily life means that your stories and the way it is told can be owned, monitored by the authorities or might also fall into the hand of criminals. Another alarming issue is that your narratives are not anymore private, they are exposed which makes them vulnerable, makes them easy to be shaped by the state authorities. It can also be used to exclude certain people from the society based on their narratives as it will turn out that one has to conform to some narratives to be included in the society.  (See the discussion on DARPA’s project on narrative networks)

The second project centers on augmented cognition The augmented cognition program (AugCog) program aims to improve the performance of military personnel in the battlefield situation and to help them manage the barrage of data in order to control uncertain situations. Eventually, neuro-technologies developed in the context of augmented cognition can be used as part of educational neuroscience by controlling the type of information that students receive, by identifying incompetent students and in the more extreme case indoctrinating and enhancing particular aspects of reality on the expenses of other.

The third project revolves around autonomous robots that military (DARPA and the naval research laboratories) is funding and developing.  Outstanding preliminary results have been obtained which at the forefront of autonomous robots research (see below and here).

Moreover, DARPA Grand Challenge  has always been at the forefront of autonomous robotic vehicles.  It aims to convert a large fraction of the military into a robotic one that would be easier to control and to give orders. It will decrease the economical burden of having military personnel and will definitely reduce the losses in lives. On the other side, autonomous soldiers can be used to ruthlessly stop protest and crack down on citizens in case of civil disobedience.

In the light of the above three areas of defense research, I envision two possible scenarios through which ending the revolutionary potential of people can happen: one gradual by organized educational programs in the framework of “educational neuroscience”. Although it might be beneficial to train the brain in the most optimal way (as I mentioned beforehand in the context of augmented cognition), educational neuroscience can also be used to socially engineer the citizens to prevent any possible revolutionary uprising.  The “educational neuroscience” framework combines with the promotion of the “Experts culture” on a global scale to convert the population into “empty” individuals indoctrinated with fragmented knowledge acting locally to solve specific problems dissociated from any collective or global endeavors.  

The second scenario is the use of brain control modalities to immediately end any revolutionary uprising. In addition to controlling your brain narratives and autonomous robotic soldiers as I mentioned beforehand, brain control modalities can also include neurotropic drugs that alter the psychological state of the individuals, neurotoxins that can control or stop the activity of the brain and neuromicrobiological agents that delivers pathogens to the brain thus rendering it dysfunctional.

It is high time to critically analyze the potential uses of these technologies in order to build an (neuro-)ethical framework that aims to maintain an integral viable society based on a non-neurocentric worldview and to prevent the use of neurotechnology in degrading the revolutionary potential of individuals. These developments call for the formation of revolutionary groups both in the intellectual domain to developing a critical theory of neuroscience and in the activism domain by disseminating these critical discourses to the public.

We should imagine, propose and create alternative realities where the implications of neurotechnology on our deepest values of freedom, thinking and intellect have to be critically assessed. As we are exposed everyday to how the global technological revolution will revolutionize our lives, it is important to prevent that revolution from destroying our most valued characteristics. We should always support global techno-anarchy revolution against the global techno-oppression.

Ahmed Al Hady is a Researcher at the Hybrid Reality Institute, a research and advisory group focused on human-technology co-evolution, geotechnology and innovation.

Iron Age discoveries uncovered outside London, including a ‘murder’ victim

A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.

Photo Credit: HS2
Culture & Religion
  • A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
  • The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
  • An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Keep reading Show less

Are we really addicted to technology?

Fear that new technologies are addictive isn't a modern phenomenon.

Credit: Rodion Kutsaev via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink, which has partnered with the Build for Tomorrow podcast to go inside new episodes each month. Subscribe here to learn more about the crazy, curious things from history that shaped us, and how we can shape the future.

In many ways, technology has made our lives better. Through smartphones, apps, and social media platforms we can now work more efficiently and connect in ways that would have been unimaginable just decades ago.

But as we've grown to rely on technology for a lot of our professional and personal needs, most of us are asking tough questions about the role technology plays in our own lives. Are we becoming too dependent on technology to the point that it's actually harming us?

In the latest episode of Build for Tomorrow, host and Entrepreneur Editor-in-Chief Jason Feifer takes on the thorny question: is technology addictive?

Popularizing medical language

What makes something addictive rather than just engaging? It's a meaningful distinction because if technology is addictive, the next question could be: are the creators of popular digital technologies, like smartphones and social media apps, intentionally creating things that are addictive? If so, should they be held responsible?

To answer those questions, we've first got to agree on a definition of "addiction." As it turns out, that's not quite as easy as it sounds.

If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people.

LIAM SATCHELL UNIVERSITY OF WINCHESTER

"Over the past few decades, a lot of effort has gone into destigmatizing conversations about mental health, which of course is a very good thing," Feifer explains. It also means that medical language has entered into our vernacular —we're now more comfortable using clinical words outside of a specific diagnosis.

"We've all got that one friend who says, 'Oh, I'm a little bit OCD' or that friend who says, 'Oh, this is my big PTSD moment,'" Liam Satchell, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Winchester and guest on the podcast, says. He's concerned about how the word "addiction" gets tossed around by people with no background in mental health. An increased concern surrounding "tech addiction" isn't actually being driven by concern among psychiatric professionals, he says.

"These sorts of concerns about things like internet use or social media use haven't come from the psychiatric community as much," Satchell says. "They've come from people who are interested in technology first."

The casual use of medical language can lead to confusion about what is actually a mental health concern. We need a reliable standard for recognizing, discussing, and ultimately treating psychological conditions.

"If we don't have a good definition of what we're talking about, then we can't properly help people," Satchell says. That's why, according to Satchell, the psychiatric definition of addiction being based around experiencing distress or significant family, social, or occupational disruption needs to be included in any definition of addiction we may use.

Too much reading causes... heat rashes?

But as Feifer points out in his podcast, both popularizing medical language and the fear that new technologies are addictive aren't totally modern phenomena.

Take, for instance, the concept of "reading mania."

In the 18th Century, an author named J. G. Heinzmann claimed that people who read too many novels could experience something called "reading mania." This condition, Heinzmann explained, could cause many symptoms, including: "weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and melancholy."

"That is all very specific! But really, even the term 'reading mania' is medical," Feifer says.

"Manic episodes are not a joke, folks. But this didn't stop people a century later from applying the same term to wristwatches."

Indeed, an 1889 piece in the Newcastle Weekly Courant declared: "The watch mania, as it is called, is certainly excessive; indeed it becomes rabid."

Similar concerns have echoed throughout history about the radio, telephone, TV, and video games.

"It may sound comical in our modern context, but back then, when those new technologies were the latest distraction, they were probably really engaging. People spent too much time doing them," Feifer says. "And what can we say about that now, having seen it play out over and over and over again? We can say it's common. It's a common behavior. Doesn't mean it's the healthiest one. It's just not a medical problem."

Few today would argue that novels are in-and-of-themselves addictive — regardless of how voraciously you may have consumed your last favorite novel. So, what happened? Were these things ever addictive — and if not, what was happening in these moments of concern?

People are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm.

JASON FEIFER HOST OF BUILD FOR TOMORROW

There's a risk of pathologizing normal behavior, says Joel Billieux, professor of clinical psychology and psychological assessment at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, and guest on the podcast. He's on a mission to understand how we can suss out what is truly addictive behavior versus what is normal behavior that we're calling addictive.

For Billieux and other professionals, this isn't just a rhetorical game. He uses the example of gaming addiction, which has come under increased scrutiny over the past half-decade. The language used around the subject of gaming addiction will determine how behaviors of potential patients are analyzed — and ultimately what treatment is recommended.

"For a lot of people you can realize that the gaming is actually a coping (mechanism for) social anxiety or trauma or depression," says Billieux.

"Those cases, of course, you will not necessarily target gaming per se. You will target what caused depression. And then as a result, If you succeed, gaming will diminish."

In some instances, a person might legitimately be addicted to gaming or technology, and require the corresponding treatment — but that treatment might be the wrong answer for another person.

"None of this is to discount that for some people, technology is a factor in a mental health problem," says Feifer.

"I am also not discounting that individual people can use technology such as smartphones or social media to a degree where it has a genuine negative impact on their lives. But the point here to understand is that people are complicated, our relationship with new technology is complicated, and addiction is complicated — and our efforts to simplify very complex things, and make generalizations across broad portions of the population, can lead to real harm."

Behavioral addiction is a notoriously complex thing for professionals to diagnose — even more so since the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the book professionals use to classify mental disorders, introduced a new idea about addiction in 2013.

"The DSM-5 grouped substance addiction with gambling addiction — this is the first time that substance addiction was directly categorized with any kind of behavioral addiction," Feifer says.

"And then, the DSM-5 went a tiny bit further — and proposed that other potentially addictive behaviors require further study."

This might not sound like that big of a deal to laypeople, but its effect was massive in medicine.

"Researchers started launching studies — not to see if a behavior like social media use can be addictive, but rather, to start with the assumption that social media use is addictive, and then to see how many people have the addiction," says Feifer.

Learned helplessness

The assumption that a lot of us are addicted to technology may itself be harming us by undermining our autonomy and belief that we have agency to create change in our own lives. That's what Nir Eyal, author of the books Hooked and Indistractable, calls 'learned helplessness.'

"The price of living in a world with so many good things in it is that sometimes we have to learn these new skills, these new behaviors to moderate our use," Eyal says. "One surefire way to not do anything is to believe you are powerless. That's what learned helplessness is all about."

So if it's not an addiction that most of us are experiencing when we check our phones 90 times a day or are wondering about what our followers are saying on Twitter — then what is it?

"A choice, a willful choice, and perhaps some people would not agree or would criticize your choices. But I think we cannot consider that as something that is pathological in the clinical sense," says Billieux.

Of course, for some people technology can be addictive.

"If something is genuinely interfering with your social or occupational life, and you have no ability to control it, then please seek help," says Feifer.

But for the vast majority of people, thinking about our use of technology as a choice — albeit not always a healthy one — can be the first step to overcoming unwanted habits.

For more, be sure to check out the Build for Tomorrow episode here.

Why the U.S. and Belgium are culture buddies

The Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural map replaces geographic accuracy with closeness in terms of values.

According to the latest version of the Inglehart-Welzel World Cultural Map, Belgium and the United States are now each other's closest neighbors in terms of cultural values.

Credit: World Values Survey, public domain.
Strange Maps
  • This map replaces geography with another type of closeness: cultural values.
  • Although the groups it depicts have familiar names, their shapes are not.
  • The map makes for strange bedfellows: Brazil next to South Africa and Belgium neighboring the U.S.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast