Can’t remember where your keys are? Neuroscientists studying the behaviors of rats have created a device that flips areas of the brain off and on allowing them to remember previously forgotten sequences of events and shut them back off just as easily. Soon, if memory is completely controlled by machine we may be living in worlds that are primarily focused in a direction prerecorded and decided by signals from our brain implants. But could it pose problems in the future?
So how does it work? The chip sends a signal to the rat’s brain based on traces of the memory created during the memory formation process. A similar signal is then fed back into the brain while the rat is trying to recall something. As a result, the brain simulates the memory “opening” process and the rat is able to recall what it was supposed to do at that point with much better accuracy. How is the rat able to do this? The experiment started with rats being led into a chamber with a series of levers. When they were distracted by a loud noise during memory formation they would lose track of where they were and forget which lever to pull to get a drink of water. But if the memory stimulation sent the right signal to their brain, they were able to recall with much greater detail which of several levers it was supposed to pull in order to get the water.
Of course essentially what this could be interpreted as is a form of mind control – albeit voluntary mind control by the participant. If you receive a certain signal in your brain from a specific stimulus, then you will perform a specific action most likely. And if you do not, then you will continue as though you never had that memory. So in addition to being helpful for individuals with memory disorders, chips like these in humans could help with the process of decision making, keeping track of things, and even memorizing bits of trivial information – if it ever was used in humans.
But there’s a disturbing possibility as well that of course comes up when we start changing the way the brain works. In addition to the possible applications for the betterment of those with memory disorders, it could also be used as a compass or guide to those making more serious decisions – perhaps even against their will. Since it triggers memory in such a different way, could this device be used in a Manchurian Candidate style scenario to change someone’s behavior drastically by remote control? While it may seem an unlikely scenario and possibly still a few years off, the possibility has more than a few who have heard of the technology concerned.
And yet the idea of robotic slavery is not something we can accept just yet technologically. There would still have to be a vast communications infrastructure sending signals and several experiments ahead of time designed to make the Manchurian candidate behave a certain way under certain conditions. Perhaps most questionable of all is the fact that this device would leave behind evidence that some form of mind control was going on in the first place.