Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Only the dead have seen the end of war. ~ Plato

Instead of the indiscriminate destruction of the atom bomb or napalm, the signature weapon of future wars may be precise, unprecedented control over the human brain. As global conflicts become murkier, technologies based on infiltrating brains may soon enter countries' arsenals, neuroethicists claim in a paper published online October 31 in Synesis. Such "neuroweapons" have the capacity to profoundly change the way war is fought.

Advances in understanding the brain's inner workings could lead to a pill that makes prisoners talk, deadly toxins that can shut down brain function in minutes, or supersoldiers who rely on brain chips to quickly lock in on an enemy's location.

The breadth of brain-based technologies is wide, and includes the traditional psychological tactics used in earlier wars. But the capacity of the emerging technologies is vastly wider  -  and may make it possible to coerce enemy minds with exquisite precision.

In the paper, neuroscientists James Giordano of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Va., and Rachel Wurzman of Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., describe emerging brain technologies and argue that the United States must be proactive in neuroscience-based research that could be used for national intelligence and security.

"A number of these different approaches are heating up in the crucible of possibility, so that's really increased some of the momentum and the potential of what this stuff can do," Giordano says.

In the not-too-distant future, technologies called brain-machine interfaces could allow the combination of human brains with sophisticated computer programs. Analysts with a brain chip could quickly sift through huge amounts of intelligence data, and fighter pilots merged with computer search algorithms could rapidly lock onto an enemy target, for instance.