Fiona Macrae – Daily Mail March 1, 2012
Thinking caps that enhance intelligence and mind-controlled missiles could be a major part of a ‘Star Wars’ future for the human race, academics claim.
They are investigating the ethical dilemmas posed by inventions that interfere with the workings of the brain.
With some of the devices already piloted and the technology to create others readily available, the influential Nuffield Council on Bioethics has launched a consultation on the subject.
Professor Thomas Baldwin, who is in charge of the consultation, said the U.S. military was actively trying to develop weapons that could be controlled by the thought waves of a soldier thousands of miles away via a computer.
He said: ‘It is not just science fiction. If you really can make contact with thoughts and get devices controlled by them, then you can have funny kinds of warfare.
‘I don’t think it is unrealistic if you have the unlimited funds of the Pentagon to project ourselves towards some kind of Star Wars future.’
‘Thinking caps’, or headsets which pass electric current through the brain to stimulate it, are already used to treat severe depression and are being tested in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease, while tests show them to boost mathematical ability.
Dr Alena Buyx, assistant director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, said students could come under pressure to wear such a device or be left behind.
The consultation will also look at whether having decisions affected by a computer chip in the brain could lead to a sense of diminished responsibility.
Other possibilities include ‘mind to mind’ communication, in which people pass thoughts to each other through a computer, rather than words through a telephone.
Mind-controlled wheelchairs and robotic arms are also on the horizon.
Ten years ago, Kevin Warwick, a Reading university expert on robotics, had a ‘mind-reading’ microchip implanted in his arm.
Brain signals picked up by the chip when he was in New York were transmitted by computer to Reading, where they operated a robotic hand.
Professor Warwick said that he believes that people are now ready to embrace the technology.
The consultation, which will finish in May, will also look at the dark side of tinkering with the brain, from side-effects of implants to the sense of diminished responsibility that might arise from decisions being made by a chip.
Professor Baldwin said: ‘Intervening in the brain has always raised both hopes and fears in equal measure.
‘Hopes of curing terrible diseases and fears about the consequences of trying to enhance human capability beyond what is normally possible.
‘These challenge us to think carefully about fundamental questions to do with the brain: what makes us human, what makes us an individual and how and why we think and behave in the way we do.’