Technology A Bane or A Boon ?
Now they can Hack in your Brain’s
Reading People and Their Minds
Technologies have also been developed to assist soldiers and others. In one project, pilots undergo brain scans to evaluate fatigue, which can be compensated for by greater automation of their planes. Machineries can measure fatigue in other ways — and are useful in many types of vehicles. A driver’s eye movements can be photographed (blinking is significant). Hand pressure on the steering wheel and a person’s heat can be measured, the latter by a specially lined seat. These close the gap between living thing and machine, and make use of the fact that people’s bodies are, as Dennis puts it, the “most capable data-processing subject.”
But measuring so closely has its downside. Dennis worries about a hypothetical future in which people will be scanned for “dangerous intentions.” Travelers will have to keep their thoughts safe as well as their bodies.
FoxNews.com, on September 23, 2008, presented Allison Barrie’s article “Homeland Security Detects Terrorist Threats by Reading Your Mind.” The truckbed-sized MALINTENT is revealed as the new system to worry those who value their privacy. It was developed at the Science and Technology directorate of Homeland Security. MALINTENT uses imagers and sensors to note a subject’s respiration, heart rate and temperature in a search for the subtle signs dangerous people show before they attack.
A field test was run in Maryland, with most of its participants unaware of their participation. It was set up under the cover of a bogus “technology expo.” As part of the trick, 144 of those tested were under the illusion that they were just going through an entrance, when they were actually traveling through screening sensors. The other 23 knew they were in a special project, and were told to carry a “disruptive device” when passing through the portal. When the people passed through, sensors first picked out if something was “off” or unexpected, and analysts (who did not know the identities of the “dangerous” 23) decided who needed to be noted for questioning. Scanning of small muscle movements was then done to get further information as to probable intention.
The device used in that test is called FAST (for “Future Attribute Screening Technology”) and it is supposedly effective enough to be able to tell harassed and nervous travelers from those who are dangerous.
There are ethical issues regarding privacy and storage, since the scan is like an unasked-for doctor’s examination. But, at this point at least, it does not keep data permanently. If the system is okayed for airports, it may take the place of some of the current security procedures.
Kingsley Dennis shows in the First Monday article that the world of Steven Spielberg’s movie Minority Report — where a person’s mere intent is subject to discovery and prosecution — may not be so far away after all.
Dennis reminds us that information flows around us in formats like cell phone broadcasts and television transmissions. Once we can decode many sorts of broadcasts and then transmit them from our re-wired bodies (where remote access technologies are plugged into our nervous systems), the world and civilization will alter in uncountable ways. What physicist Stuart Wolf calls “network-enabled telepathy” will be a reality, and wearable devices will be commonplace — and the new social order about which Dennis worries will become a reality. This is a world one in which the mind can be bedeviled by government surveillance, terrorists and programming experts.
David Hambling’s March 21, 2008 article “US Army toyed with telepathic ray gun” on New Scientist Tech summarizes much of “Bioeffects of Selected Nonlethal Weapons.” He wrote about how some of the devices were in concept stage, while others had undergone tests or actual use. Since the writing of the report, Hambling notes, the Long Range Acoustic Device has actually been used, mostly notably when dealing with pirates off Somalia.
“Hacking” Into the Brain — for Images
Celeste Biever, in a December 12, 2008 story for New Scientist Tech, wrote about how software can now recreate what a subject sees by making use of nothing but brain scans.
After some success at the University of California, Berkeley, where Jack Gallant and his associates demonstrated that they could identify which images their test subjects were observing by looking at brain scans, further steps have been taken. The ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, have been the site of the newer MRI work. Yukiyasu Kamitani’s team made use of a brain-activity scanner image to recreate the image originally observed. Dr. Kamitani said. “By analyzing the brain signals when someone is seeking an image, we can reconstruct that image.” For example, the word “neuron” is recognizable from its software reconstruction.
The eventual commercial usages will be fraught with privacy issues. Its medical uses will be less controversial most of the time. Patients unable to move will be able to reach out with their thoughts, and — through possible related “reverse” developments — blind people may be able to see. (What they could be made to see would be another matter.)
An article in the U.S.-based scientific journal Neuron shows how it will also be possible through brain scans to interpret hallucinations and identify mental disorders.
The next topic of study will be how dreams and experiences are realized in the brain. Privacy will be an issue when accuracy improves, since hidden images would be extracted when subjects are asleep. When one can peer into a person’s subconscious without his or her knowledge, the potentials of abuse are endless.
Intrusions on privacy have taken place in the past. There is surviving evidence of nasty government doings, particularly by the CIA, at the expense of members of the general public.
Of course, what Dr. Delgado had done with animals could be tried on humans. And subliminal persuasion — where signals only the subconscious mind can process are hidden within other media — could be part of the mix. Igor Smirnov, a researcher of the Russian Academy of Sciences, is a specialist in subliminals. He was consulted by staff from the FBI’s Counter-Terrorism Center when they wanted to influence David Koresh of the Branch Davidian sect during the ill-fated FBI negotiations with the cult leader. Smirnov’s idea was to plant subliminal audio messages in phone communications. One idea was for Charlton Heston to play the voice of God. The hidden “Holy” messages intoned by Heston would have been obscured under normal ones and heard subconsciously.
Smirnov has spoken of vanquishing terrorism using acoustic influences. In 1991, he had shown to observers from the United States that transmission of infrasound — at a frequency beneath the threshold of normal hearing — could send sound messages conducted through bone.
Kingsley Dennis notes that: “Military thinking in this area is beginning to shift towards a systemic viewpoint which considers the human as an open system rather than as a closed, bounded system.” As Dennis and others have emphasized: the “mind has no firewall.”
Let There Be Light — and Sound
Light is readily useable, and “Bioeffects…” covers the three main damages achievable with lasers — the “chemical, thermal, and mechanical or acoustic-mechanical” hazards. Tissues irradiated by lasers suffer photochemical damage. The skin and the eyes are most sensitive to this. Lasers can blind (permanently or temporarily) or dazzle with glare, or cause flash-blinding night-blindness. Any of these — or other eye damages — can badly effect the performance of a mission and mar a life.
“Bioeffects of Selected Non-Lethal Weapons” was finally regraded as unclassified on December 6, 2006. Moral issues are not its direct subject though the issues are implicit. Others would take those topics on.
Physorg.com was one of the many websites to mention this 1998 Pentagon report and its low-key aftermath (where no public uses of the technologies were much noted) in the February 18, 2008 article by Lisa Zyga entitled “Pentagon report investigated lasers that put voices in your head.” Responses to the article’s web appearance were typical. One “cmi” (a.k.a. “Christine”) posted on February 20 and commented that she has schizophrenia, and that: “I feel better knowing that my beliefs were true.” “Beth” posted on February 25, 2008, and noted the seriousness of taking over someone’s central nervous system. She wrote about the recent technologies for so-called “crowd control” and stresses that: “Perhaps the correct nomenclature should be ‘social control’.”
Getting Inside Heads
Getting sounds to individuals is not always so violent. Andrew Hampp, a reporter for Aftermath News, reported in a December 14, 2007 piece about the newly intrusive methods of advertising. He went to SoHo, New York, to check out an upsetting technology.
Hampp wrote about Alison Wilson, who ventured down Prince Street in December 2007 and heard “Who’s there? Who’s there?” followed by “It’s not your imagination.” The seeming audio hallucination turned out to be connected with a billboard using an “audio spotlight” sent from atop a roof. It used Holosonics® to advertise the A&E Network television show Paranormal State.
The Holosonics technology — which makes a narrow sound beam from a diminutive source — broadcasts sound that can be heard by one person but not people nearby. Joe Pompei, who founded Holosonics, says that ultrasound technology was originally designed to cut down on noise pollution by reducing the number of people who hear a noise. It does to sound what a flashlight does to light: directs it in a narrow fashion. Nevertheless it creates the illusion of the disembodied voices familiar to schizophrenics. It is showmanship, but it portends more troubling machines.
Even more amazing are developments in the transmission and reception of mental data. Steve Connor, Science Editor for The Independent, related — in an article published on March 13, 2009 — that scientists were coming closer to reading people’s minds through decoding the electrical activity in their brains.
It is now possible to learn where a person imagines himself to be physically — for example, his or her position in a visualized maze — without inquiring verbally. This is done using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines studying the activity patterns in the hippocampus area of the brain. Utilizing MRI, male taxi drivers in London — who have memorized the streets of their city — have been shown to possess an area behind the hippocampus that is larger than normal.
Dr. Demis Hassabis, of University College London, comments that the technology is a decade away from reading a person’s thoughts without the subject’s cooperation during a brief session. The present work, according to Dr. Hassabis will help scientists learn how the hippocampus processes information, and how memories are diminished by such diseases as Alzheimer’s.
Current Biology has published the results of the study, headed by Professor Eleanor Maguire of University College London, in which volunteers navigated through a computer’s virtual maze while being brain-scanned via MRI.
Mind privacy is less an issue to those who have too much privacy. One much-publicized research project aims to help stroke patients and brain-injured soldiers by reaching into their disabled minds and extracting information needed to help them. A less-mentioned aspect of this technology is that it could be used to interrogate enemy combatants (or anybody else). The overall mission of the research is to find ways to read brain signals in order to decipher a person’s thoughts.
The Army has granted $4 million to scientists at the University of Maryland, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of California at Irvine, who are all collaborating on the project. Michael D’Zmura, Professor and Chair of the Department of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California at Irvine, is working with a team including Gregory Hickok, Ramesh Srinivasan, and Kourosh Saberi, all cognitive science professors at UCI. The grant comes under the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative program of the U.S. Department of Defense.
Some of the tools being utilized in this “synthetic telepathy” are familiar. One of these technologies is electroencephalography (EEG) which is used to detect electrical activity in the brain via scalp electrodes. A test subject in these EEG experiments wears a cap equipped with electrodes and is asked to think of a chosen word. The brain activity is then analyzed.
Over time, this analysis can be improved, and in the future will be assisted by thought-recognition software. A 128-sensor array will eventually be positioned within a helmet.
D’Zmura notes that the research is “years away” from the type of mental telepathy in which a person can think freely with others knowing what is thought. This is because the “sender” will need to be trained to formulate a thought in a format that can be read via EEG. This rules out aggressively spying on people’s private thoughts. Cooperation will be needed. As long as this remains the case, the worst-case Big Brother-type scenarios cannot play out.
But soldiers will be able to communicate without making a noise, and relay orders and other information. They will have to think loudly, but that is easier than talking quietly on other communications devices.
D’Zmura envisions a future in which students communicate by thought rather than by texting. He also mentions EEG-based game devices that are not as bulky as those marketed at present, and which could be worn as a hat or a hood.
Organized Stalking and Electronic Harassment
Organized stalking, as defined by those who feel they have been the victims of it, is the coordinated, continual long term harassment by a networked group of people who could be strangers to the target, acquaintances of the target, government agents or all of these. This stalking tends to take the form of vague incidents that may seem harmless in themselves but when taken collectively produce extreme discomfort, fear and paranoia in the victim. These can include such things as repeated hang up phone calls, strangers gesturing from a passing car, minor acts of vandalism on the target’s home or property, or any of a number of other repeated annoying behaviors directed at an individual by numerous others.
The Organized Stalking and Electronic Harassment website is a center of TI communication, and there are other such sites in many countries. Its main pages, at http://www.raven1.net and http://www.raven1.net/restofsite.shtml, cover many aspects of “Organized Stalking and Electronic Harassment” (OS/EH). Supervised by Eleanor White, the site uses the term OS/EH in preference of the more limited “mind control” and refers to it as the “near perfect crime.”
Statistics are provided on-site for many kinds of stalking and harassment. The varieties of stalkers are enumerated. The website’s answer to why organized stalking and electronic harassment are not recorded in the official crime statistics is that: “They consistently used the ‘you are mentally ill’ method, with its implied threat of being forced into the mental health system, as their main blocking tactic.” They claim that if a person is actually targeted the usual channels for help are not available.
Organized stalking, as described here (as a systematic destruction of every social and private aspect of a target’s life), is informed by the historical examples of MKULTRA and COINTELPRO, and is said to be done in the “community watch” style of the present day — a sort of neighborhood watch gone bad.
Particularly feared on the OS/EH website are the uses of microwaves, including microwave ovens (altered to project through walls) and “voice to skull” technologies. Their worries are understandable enough but an outsider to the subculture would find some of it strange. One worry is “how well your possessions will work and how long they will work without breakdowns.” Common human aggravations like illnesses, and woes like the death of a pet, are taken as signs of persecution. Lists are presented of targeted people and the harms they experienced.
Eleanor White bases her group’s case on the histories of MKULTRA, COINTELPRO, and the commercial and unclassified technologies. To her mind, the known facts prove her group’s claims, and she calls upon fellow Christians to pray, among other things, “that Satan’s grip on the perpetrators might be shaken loose.”
The website includes a review for the 1979 book Search for the Manchurian Candidate by John Marks, which sources 16,000 pages of CIA documents obtained through the FOIA — with many details on MKULTRA. The review summarizes that “This book shows clearly that morally bankrupt people in positions of authority are not particularly rare, and the moral bankruptcy extends even to torturing fellow citizens.”
Targeted Individuals and the Bigger Picture
Sharon Weinberger provided a wider look at the subculture of people who think that the government is putting voices into their heads in an article entitled “Mind Games” in the Washington Post of January 14, 2007. She followed it up on January 16 with a Live Discussion on the Washington Post website in which interested parties (including many TIs) participated.
In “Mind Games,” Weinberger describes the lingo used in a Saturday evening conference call involving TIs within the subculture, in which terms like “gang stalking” and “V2K” (short for “voice to skull”) were bandied about. “Gang stalking” describes what the group feels is happening to them — that they are being shadowed and harassed by strangers, by neighbors, or even by co-workers, who are government agents. The forum had, at that time during 2007, 143 members. One caller described her heavy use of aluminum foil in her clothes — even her hat. Derrick Robinson, the moderator of the call, described his gang stalking as beginning in the 1980s when he was working at the National Security Agency (NSA).
One Californian Targeted Individual, after conducting interviews of some 50 fellow TIs, reported widespread symptoms of ear-ringing, voices, body part manipulation, skin sensations, sexual attacks and sinus problems. Assaults to sexual organs were described by TIs of both genders. One described how it felt “electronic.” This is so similar to “alien abduction experiences” as to be startling, and it was noticed by Susan Clancy, the Harvard psychologist who wrote the book Abducted. Of the seemingly abducted, she says: “It’s not just an explanation for your problems; it’s a source of meaning for your life.”
And there have been well-known people who have had a TI or TI-like experience. Evelyn Waugh, the 20th century novelist, in a 1957 semi-autobiographical fiction entitled The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold, told of a man hearing voices which seemed to be broadcast into his head. (Waugh found that his own TI experience was due to some drugs.)
TIs are confronted by basic questions. Did what happened to them actually happen? If it happens to many people, why is its importance minimized? Why are there so many things that would seem to be evidence that what happened was real? Weinberger sums up a major problem: “The very ‘realness’ of the voices is the issue — how do you disbelieve something you perceive as real?”
In the follow-up, she sums up that, while many TIs are probably mentally ill, that “…not everyone who believes in strange things is mentally ill.” Hearing voices is not as uncommon as thought.
There are a number of mysteries about the reality of the TIs’ situation. One is the wherewithal of the alleged persecutors. It would take a lot of money and time to set up the claimed mechanisms of torment. If research is the motive, what would be the uses of the information gleaned from politically insignificant people as compared to the costs of the research? In secretive prisons such as Guantanamo, techniques that slowly break down personality are put into use on people termed enemy combatants. How much of this was learned from the mind studies over the years?
Cheryl Welsh, who responded positively to Weinberger’s Post article, heads Mind Justice, a “human rights group working for the rights and protections of mental integrity and freedom from new technologies and weapons which target the mind and nervous system.” The group’s website, at http://mindjustice.org/, has much information on mind-afflicting technologies and their history. One 2008 article in particular, written by Welsh, “In Contravention of Conventional Wisdom: CIA ‘no touch’ torture makes sense out of mind control allegations,” compares the mind-eroding effects of modern interrogation with the experiences of the TIs and likens the almost theatrical setups which unnerve the recipients of the “no touch” torture to the “street theater” described in the testimonies of alleged mind control victims. Welsh wonders who controls neuroscience weapons research and how advanced it is. She stresses the continued “lack of public input” to the policy of its use.
The biggest mystery is what constitutes the present state of the art. The publicized technologies are fairly crude and most have a short range while the symptoms felt by TIs hint at more advanced machines that can work at great distances and without some of the limitations of known technology. Is the most sophisticated tech still Top Secret? Why is it that — after all these decades of research — no neurologically-based weapons have been publicly used?
This leaves things at a strange nexus — where “crazy” beliefs and technological capabilities meet. The connection is unsettling, and is generally downplayed. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) proposed in 2001 — as part of a larger bill — to ban psychotronic weapons but met mockery from columnists and others.
The scariest element of all is the biological/mechanical — or man/machine — interface. There could be a person who could see, hear, and mind-read too much — and to whom little would be private. What would such a presence do to human interaction and sanity?
Are the problems feared by TIs and some of the rest of us actually a forerunner of things to come?
Gaming with the Mind
In Eric Bland’s article “Army developing ‘synthetic telepathy’,” published on MSNBC.com on October 13, 2008, Paul Sajda, an Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Columbia University, shares his ideas on thought-based gaming. At present, virtual objects can be manipulated using EEG headsets, which can pick up signals within one or two centimeters in the brain, notes Sajda. It will take much more detail to deal with “auditory” thoughts that translate into words. More work must be done to find out which phrases and words line up with which sections of the brain.
A notable new device is the Neural Impulse Actuator from OCZ, which monitors both forehead muscles and brain activities. Algorithms are used to translate the brain and muscle signals into commands for game activities. Some who have tried the device feel that the furrowing of the user’s brows is what is doing most of the heavy lifting. Use of the Actuator improves over time as the device’s computer programs get to know one’s muscle/brain idiosyncrasies.
Another gaming device is a brainwave headset, designed for computer games. Emotiv Systems’ headset is attuned to the brain. Its function is entirely motivated by the 16 sensors that scan brain electrical activity. Norman Chan of the magazine PC Gamer put the device on and within four seconds “levitated a mountain” (on a computer screen on one axis of virtual movement). The product was not then publicly released, but he wanted one for his very own.
Sony, a giant in the gaming field, has gotten a patent on a device for, as Kingsley Dennis cites it, “transmitting sensory data directly into the human brain.” It works by sending ultrasound pulses to specified portions of the brain, which results in “sensory experiences.” Transcranial magnetic stimulation is its basis, and it affects the nerves using changes in magnetic fields. It it hoped that Sony’s patent will enable the deaf to hear and the blind to see.
Add, to efforts like these, competitor Microsoft’s efforts to turn the entire body — especially skin — into computing devices and you have the world conceived by Bill Gates in which computers disappear into the environment. Technology is becoming less a matter of external hardware such as peripherals. Instead the need for computer hardware is declining as designers find ways to connect with the body’s own computational powers.
Hacking may end up a problem, though. Hadley Leggett, in a news article posted online July 9, 2009 on Wired Science, writes of the possibility of hacking of the brain. While hackers often get into others’ computers, it would be more serious if the computers they cracked were inside people, controlling such devices as prosthetic limbs, artificial hearts, and brain stimulators. In 2007 and 2008 malign programmers installed harmful flashing animations into epilepsy websites, so it is only a matter of time before they try the same with neurological machines.
WOULD YA ALLOW ALL THIS TO HAPPEN ???