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Bioethicist Jonathan Moreno Talks Jacked-In Soldiers And Military Neuroscience 117

Posted by samzenpus
from the weapon-of-the-future dept.
pigrabbitbear writes "Who's driving a lot of neuro research? The military. Much of it is health related, like figuring out how to make prosthetics work more seamlessly and helping diagnose brain injuries. But the military's involvement highlights the basic ethical quandary of neurological development: When our brains pretty much define who we are, what happens when you start adding tech in there? And what happens when you take it away? Jonathan Moreno is quite possibly the top bioethicist in the country, and along with Michael Tennison, recently penned a fascinating essay on the role and ethics of using neuroscience for national security. He also recently updated his book Mind Wars, a seminal look into the military's work with the brain. In this interview he discusses brain implants, drones, and what will happen when military tech hits the civilian world."
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Bioethicist Jonathan Moreno Talks Jacked-In Soldiers And Military Neuroscience

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Caffeine affects our brain in a non-trivial way. If we're hungry, we behave differently. So food affects our brain in a non-trivial way. How is ingesting caffeine and food different than adding hardware to our brain?

    • It's quite a bit harder to hack into food and control you. It's also a lot easier to revert to your previous state...just change diet.

      • "Because he puts an addictive chemical in his chicken that makes ya crave it fortnightly, smartass!" Joking aside I think the food industry in the US has done a good deal of work of hacking our food in concert with hacking regulation and planting ideas through advertisements to control us. Granted it isn't further than buy our products, but it still isn't as far as it first seems.
      • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @10:12AM (#40099333) Homepage

        It's quite a bit harder to hack into food and control you. It's also a lot easier to revert to your previous state...just change diet.

        We're talking caffeine here - there is no 'just change' anything.

        Without caffeine, life would not be possible.

        • The caffeine extends life. The caffeine expands consciousness. The caffeine is vital to space travel.

          The caffeine must flow!
        • by Maxx169 (920414)
          I've never worked out if I drink coffee to wake up or wake up to drink coffee...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by captainpanic (1173915)

      How is ingesting caffeine and food different than adding hardware to our brain?

      It isn't.
      And that's why most countries have institutes where doctors determine what's safe and what's not and also what's legal and what's not. Some drugs alter your mind so much that we think we'd better make them illegal. And some things are innocent enough, or even considered a stimulant, so we allow them.

      I would hope that "hardware for our brain" would be treated with the same medical methods as any medicine, food product or beverage.

      • by durrr (1316311) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @10:24AM (#40099451)

        Some drugs are fun, that's why we make them illegal.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Some drugs alter your mind so much that we think we'd better make them illegal.

        Why ? I still don't understand why it's illegal to manipulate my own body/mind! Under what authority does the goverment grant itself that right ? Music is a mind alterning stimulus [ http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jan/09/news/la-heb-music-dopamine-20110109 [latimes.com] ] , but yet we do not ban certain type of music! My point is I will add whatever harware to my brain and I will consume whatever drugs I want...

        • We ban what some faction of the gov't or interest group can convince the public should be banned. There was a push in the 50s to ban rock and roll, but the lack of public support killed that idea.
      • by shiftless (410350)

        And that's why most countries have institutes where doctors determine what's safe and what's not and also what's legal and what's not. Some drugs alter your mind so much that we think we'd better make them illegal. And some things are innocent enough, or even considered a stimulant, so we allow them.

        Cute. Did you learn that in school?

        I love how everything fits into neat, precise little categories in your world... too bad the real world is about 1000x more fucked up and crazy than your little bubble.

        I would hope that "hardware for our brain" would be treated with the same medical methods as any medicine, food product or beverage.

        That's a scary thought indeed.

    • by jgtg32a (1173373)
      It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion, It is by the beans of Java that thoughts acquire speed. The hands acquire shaking, the shaking becomes a warning. It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion
      • "It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the juice of sapho that thoughts acquire speed, the lips acquire stains, the stains become a warning. It is by will alone I set my mind in motion." - Mentat mantra, something added by David Lynch to his Dune film

    • by pushing-robot (1037830) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @12:09PM (#40100477)

      It's also funny that we spend the first 2-3 decades of life being trained and educated in a deliberate attempt to modify our brains...to the point that any parent who wants their child to exist in a "natural" human state would be sent to prison for child abuse. We pride ourselves on being "civilized", and redefine "human" to mean denying our biological nature. Society is founded on that principle, and while as a people we try to modify ourselves to become more intelligent and compassionate, education-turned-indoctrination can also make us into monsters, and even the most liberal societies train us to accept certain injustices.

      So when they say technology can change who we are, I suggest that we have been excelling at changing who we are for thousands of years. Whether a particular technique is "good" or "bad" in a moral sense depends on whether it stirs or stunts our capacity for empathy, and whether it encourages us to grow and diversify or enforces a rigid set of behavior.

      • I agree with everything up to

        Whether a particular technique is "good" or "bad" in a moral sense depends on whether it stirs or stunts our capacity for empathy, and whether it encourages us to grow and diversify or enforces a rigid set of behavior.

        Replace "in a moral sense" with "in my moral sense" and it works well enough. The real good/bad discussion is extremely complicated, with too many contradictory criteria for me to name and with very unclear relative weights. You may prize empathy while another person might prize blind hatred (the Westboro Baptist Church comes to mind here), and fundamentally what is to say who is right in some absolute moral sense? Practically speaking I of course ignore questions of foundations

  • by madhatter256 (443326) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @09:34AM (#40099031)

    Oh, I don't know... watch:

    Soldiers
    Surrogates
    Star Trek: First Contact (imo best modern ST film)
    Ghost in the Shell

    and any other sci-fi flick

    • by WillAdams (45638)

      Timothy Zahn's Cobra books as well (original short story, ``When Johnny Comes Marching Home'') --- though I prefer his _Blackcollar_ books and find them more likely.

      William

    • "Surrogates"

      Better yet, don't. The sheer stupidity of that film and the massive cop-out at the ending can send me into a twenty minute fit of nerd-rage. The writers took a good premise, but rather than go into any real consideration of the complicated field of bioethics they just chickened out with something cliche but utterly unfounded.
    • by GrpA (691294) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @10:09AM (#40099311)

      Anthropomorphic Vehicle Control (AVC) -

      When the driver *becomes* the vehicle... See's through the vehicles cameras and feels and controls the vehicle like it's their own body.

      Currently under development, but you can get an idea what it's like from this book:
      http://www.amazon.com/Turing-Evolved-ebook/dp/B007GTWLDW/ref=zg_tr_158595011_4 [amazon.com]

      It talks about other vehicles ( aircraft, ground, water etc ) but mostly about DEMONs - Direct Engagement Military Offensive Neurosuit.

      That's pretty much where I think it's headed - the book is free at the moment, BTW. Other formats: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/34627 [smashwords.com]

      GrpA

      • by TheLink (130905)

        Perhaps the driver could become the vehicle in another way. Imagine if a soldier with full battle gear and weaponry could "sprint" for 30 minutes without getting tired. He would be more formidable in many scenarios than most conventional ground vehicles including tanks.

        That might be possible if scientists can come up with a cybernetic augmentation that prevents soldiers from getting tired until they run out of fuel[1]. Most soldiers can be very strong for a few seconds, the problem is they get tired.

        Possibl

    • I'd add Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. Once you get past the "vehicle for pretty actors" element it's a very insightful, well thought out and reasonably comprehensive look at what can happen if we're able to store and reprogram brains, from leisure applications to espionage, medical and military uses.
    • by idontgno (624372)

      How about "read"?

      "Dogfight" by Swanwick and Gibson. [wikipedia.org] You think the VA's problems are bad now, wait until they have to deal with the ruined shells of combat-enhanced-and-then-demilitarized neurologically damaged veterans. As bad as PTSD and TBI are now, just think of how much worse it will be when most combat veterans have their nervous systems and mental health irretrievably ruined with battle drugs and combat-oriented conditioning and (maybe) implants.

    • by phriedom (561200)
      Pfft, everyone knows what is really going to happen if, because of [FICTION] End of discussion.
  • by jbmartin6 (1232050) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @09:34AM (#40099035)
    What sort of selection process is used to determine who is the 'top' bioethicist? Anyone at all can consider the ethical implications of brain implants.
    • by beowulfcluster (603942) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @09:45AM (#40099113)
      He's the guy with the highest karma on the bioethicist equivalent of Slashdot.
    • by Thanshin (1188877) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @09:53AM (#40099175)

      We put all candidates in a sealed arena, each one with a fully equipped lab. Labs are only connected by the air they breathe.

      The last one standing becomes the new top bioethicist.

      It's not very fair, but nobody wants to argue with the top bioethicist.

      • Fair, Schmair... I'd so watch that show. Thunderdome for biochemists. Then again, I am a biochemist...
      • by History's Coming To (1059484) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @02:02PM (#40101629) Journal
        They tried that with physicists, but they could only get it to work for spherical physicists in a vacuum.
        • by lennier (44736)

          They tried that with physicists, but they could only get it to work for spherical physicists in a vacuum.

          [GladOS] However empirical testing has discovered that if you put a physicist (*) in a vacuum, their shape does briefly approach spherical. Before exploding. So it's still a pretty good approximation. [/GladOS]

          * This technique probably only works with Bad Movie Physicists.

    • by Mikkeles (698461)

      He got top honours when graduating from Bob's School of Bioethics and Croissant Making.

      • by lennier (44736)

        Bob's School of Bioethics and Croissant Making.

        Mas non! Only evil bioethicists learn croissant making! Do you have any idea how much saturated fat is in one of those things?

        Now witness the delicious French destruction your failure of scientific morality and standardised curriculum assessment has wrought upon the world!

        You fools! You puffed the pastry up! You puffed it all up!

    • by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @10:04AM (#40099269) Homepage

      Operating Thetan level? Hmm, does a bioethicist use arcane or divine spellcasting levels?

      Not a serious question, of course: if your self appointed job title is "bioethicist", then your self appointed job is to tell people what's right and what's wrong, and that's obviously a priest class.

      Do we have any kings left that we can strangle with his entrails?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I believe the process is to first identify the "bottom bioethecist". Then the other one of the pair would have to be the "top".

      --

      Posted anonymously as post may express more about the author's opinion of bioethics than he prefers to reveal.

      • by MadKeithV (102058)

        I believe the process is to first identify the "bottom bioethecist". Then the other one of the pair would have to be the "top".

        --

        Posted anonymously as post may express more about the author's opinion of bioethics than he prefers to reveal.

        You are mistaken. The top and bottom bioethicist are one and the same. Except after taking LSD. For research.

    • by jenik (1030872)
      It is actually a pretty terrible paper. It barely discusses any ethics at all and the little it does is about third grade level.
    • by phriedom (561200)
      You probably think "Paranormal Expert" is an oxymoron.
    • Bioethicists are the self-proclaimed philosophers of the digital age. We should pay attention to what they have to say, to a degree commensurate with the volume of their digital voices, and the breadth of the digital footprint- for if they speak loudly and often, surely they must be important.

      This guy, he's like Socrates or some shit.

  • by mcgrew (92797) *

    This reminds me of Life Support [wikipedia.org], especiallt about your brain defining who you are. That episode was a perfect illustration of this topic. (The linked synopsis isn't very good, I'm afraid).

  • Wireless thought (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DigiShaman (671371) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @09:35AM (#40099045) Homepage

    While telekinesis doesn't exist in the real world, I wonder if an implant or headband could transmit core emotional responses to the rest of your platoon via wireless link. That is to say, you wouldn't be able to transmit exact words but rather basic core primitive thoughts and emotions. If one of your members are in danger or senses a major problem, everyone could be aware of the situation simultaneously without a single word spoken on the battlefield.

    • Tele = remote
      Kinesis = movement

      You probably mean telepathy.

    • by Jeng (926980)

      I can barely keep my mouth shut as it is, and you want to make it worse by being able to hear the thoughts that don't make it out of my mouth?

      • Emotions. Not ideas, actions, people, or places. The ability to pick up happiness, fear, surprise, or caution would be an invaluable form of communication. So yes, while it be an invasion of privacy, it would put all members on the same level of enhanced awareness.

        They way I see it, if you're already trusting each other with your lives, an extra layer of emotional intimacy (non-sexual) being shared among the platoon is worth it if that means staying alive.

        • by Jeng (926980)

          I say it would just be noise that would distract from any military operation, especially considering how fast ones emotions change in high-stress situations. The information that would be useful is specific information, knowing your buddies general mood is useless chatter. Knowing your buddy is dead or wounded though is vital information.

          Being bi-polar I may be rather biased since even knowing my own moods doesn't help me worth a damn.

          Also, some of the ex-military I know may have some rather paradoxical r

    • You do NOT want to transmit emotions through a wireless link in a combat device. The results would likely look similar on an encephalogram to the neuropsychological mechanism that triggers panic attacks. The civilian version would be pretty awesome for sweet lovemaking, though. :) I think a "telepathic" link would be better served forming a virtual "hive mind" that reacted in concert (kind of like clustering a server for availability only with human brains). I wouldn't use actual live soldiers on the fi
    • by Tyndmyr (811713)
      Telekinesis exists. It merely requires a few electrodes and a wifi-linked manipulator. Google Mind Flex for an example.
    • by TheLink (130905)

      Why would you want to do that (transmit emotions)?

      1) There are already brain computer interfaces.
      2) There's already wireless communication
      3) Wearable computers, displays, sensors are possible

      So sending messages to your team using thoughts is not a big step. Why would sending emotions be better in a battle than sending messages?

      Once you have that controlling devices remotely would just be a matter of sending the right messages to the right stuff. Then you have your telekinesis too.

      See also:
      http://hardware.sl [slashdot.org]

  • I'm not surprised (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zandamesh (1689334) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @09:39AM (#40099069)

    As it is now, the greatest tool(weapon) we have lies between our ears, more powerful than the fastest jets and the biggest bombs, and anything that improves it to perform certain tasks better is an option. So genetic manipulation, chips in brains, anything. Because if you don't, then someone else will and then you lose.

    I'm guessing most of this is done in secrecy to prevent public outcries.

  • Neuromancer, I remember playing this game back in the early 80's on my Commodore 64.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    How about just ending all wars? Then we won't need prosthesis for soldiers. Plus you can give me back some of my tax money spent on war welfare.

    • How about just ending all wars? Then we won't need prosthesis for soldiers. Plus you can give me back some of my tax money spent on war welfare.

      Now you're talking real changes in human brain development and activity. Like at lobotomy levels. Unfortunately, conflict seems to be pretty hard wired into the human brain.

      • Steven Pinker on the Myth of Violence [ted.com]

        Steven Pinker charts the decline of violence from Biblical times to the present, and argues that, though it may seem illogical and even obscene, given Iraq and Darfur, we are living in the most peaceful time in our species' existence.

        No two (relatively) liberal democracies have ever waged a war against each other.

        • by lennier (44736)

          No two (relatively) liberal democracies have ever waged a war against each other.

          I seem to remember the previous form of that statement being "no two democracies". Interesting how extra disclaimers have had to be added. Seems a little "no true Scotsman" to me.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I got this brain implant from the government and I feel fine. In fact, I feel better than fine. When I watch sitcoms, sports, and reality shows--it's bliss.

    • by moeinvt (851793)

      Your brain implant obviously needs to be upgraded to the newest version of the NewSpeak dictionary.

      "I got this brain implant from Big Brother and I feel good. In fact, I feel plus-good. When I watch sitcoms, sports, and reality shows--it's double-plus-good."

  • what will happen when military tech hits the civilian world?

    It does already, and as long as it keeps doing it in Muslim countries I'm all for it.

    • by 1s44c (552956)

      what will happen when military tech hits the civilian world?

      It does already, and as long as it keeps doing it in Muslim countries I'm all for it.

      And if you run out of resources before you kill everyone else? US military spending is unsustainable and pushing the national debt to insane levels. High tech comes at a high cost and brain implants are not going to change that.

  • by MadKeithV (102058) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @11:10AM (#40099915)
    From now on, if you want to start a war on a developed country, you should do it on a Tuesday. That's the day the soldiers are down for their Windows Updates.
    • by 1s44c (552956)

      From now on, if you want to start a war on a developed country, you should do it on a Tuesday. That's the day the soldiers are down for their Windows Updates.

      Imagine what something like stuxnet could do to soldiers with brain implants.

  • by DnaK (1306859)

    Ghost in the shell tackles this issue nicely in a sci fi way.

  • Sounds an awful lot like the precursor to the new Deus Ex game. I wonder if we'll see this as a result http://www.sarifindustries.com/ [sarifindustries.com]
  • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Thursday May 24, 2012 @02:58PM (#40102239) Journal
    Building an EMP rifle is trivial technology. Hardening against EMP is not as easy - if you build a shield, you just use a bigger pulse that over comes the shield. A friend of mine who was in the army for many years said "Look, between a Map and a GPS? I'll take the map. Shoot a map with a bullet - whaddya got? A map with a hole in it. Shoot a GPS and waddya got? Useless Junk." It all scales from there. The "high / robotic / tech" battlefield is just some circle jerk fantasy by beltway bandits looking for a way to strip mine more money out of the Treasury Dept.

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