Unseen Consequences Of Technology
Before the mid-1990s, brain hacking had a much different description than it does now.
With all of the horror movies that came out, brain hacking more than likely had something to do with a zombie or some other type of killer, cutting up a head and stabbing a brain.
While some movies today still portray the act of brain hacking as gruesome, technology has given the term another meaning.
The movie Johnny Mnemonic was released in 1995, and starred Keanu Reeves.
For the first time in my life, the idea of connecting a microchip to the brain became an idea. Reeves’s character, Johnny Mnemonic, has a program uploaded to his brain because it is too sensitive to send over the internet (Gibson, 1995).
More than two decades after the release of Johnny Mnemonic, the technology is not that far off.
Some of the older people in my life make the joke that smartphones are connected to the younger generation at the head, because everywhere they look, young adults and children are constantly staring at screens — which is no coincidence.
In fact, a small group of people who have worked for technology giants like Facebook and Google have confessed that these companies are developing applications and features to hook people and get them addicted to their products.
The “Like” button on Facebook was created by Justin Rosenstein, and he describes it in Our Minds Can Be Hijacked, an article written by Paul Lewis in 2017 that was published in The Guardian, as
“bright dings of pseudo-pleasure that can be as hollow as they are seductive” (Lewis, 2017).
Many people who use the social media platform typically post something and go back later to see how many “Likes” they got — if there are a significant amount of likes, they may get giddy and feel great, but if nobody likes the post, they may feel a sense of failure.
Either way, both feelings pull the person back to the platform to give it another go.
Another developer, Loren Brichter, created the pull down feature in applications (Lewis, 2017), which is described in What is Brain Hacking — a news piece presented by Anderson Cooper on CBS in 2017 — by former Google employee Tristan Harris as a slot machine that brings people back constantly to see what they have won. (Cooper, 2017)
Features such as the “Like” button and pull down feature are attractive to people, but Rosenstein believes even more is happening when it comes to manipulative advertising, which should be regulated by the state like tobacco (Lewis, 2017).
In Cooper’s news bit, he interviews Larry Rosen, who at the time was studying the impacts of technology on anxiety (Lewis, 2017).
“What we find is the typical person checks their phone every 15 minutes or less and half of the time they check their phone there is no alert, no notification,” Rosen told Cooper during the interview. “It’s coming from inside their head telling them, ‘Gee, I haven’t checked on Facebook for a while. I haven’t checked on this Twitter feed for a while. I wonder if somebody commented on my Instagram post.’ Then that generates cortisol and it starts to make you anxious.”
Cooper went on to say,
“the same hormone that made primitive man anxious and hyper aware of his surrounding to keep him from being eaten by lions is today compelling Rosen’s students and all of us to continually peek at our phones to relieve our anxiety” (Cooper, 2017).
If anxiety levels are not high enough to worry about what the tech giants are doing, then how about the idea of neurologists working for these companies to figure out how to get people to stare at screens longer?
Frank Foer wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post in 2017 called, How Silicon Valley is Erasing Your Individuality, and in it, he writes about how these technology companies are doing everything they can to automate a person’s life (Foer, 2017).
Jeff Stibel also wrote about another pursuit that Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are looking into, involving microchips and human brains (Stibel, 2017).
Musk may be moving toward cars that drive by brain power, and Zuckerberg may be trying to get people to be able to use Facebook without typing (Stibel, 2017).
Stibel started the company Brain Gate, Inc., which started putting microchips in the brains of physically disabled individuals to help them use their hands, walk or control their wheelchairs (Stibel, 2017).
But when his company wanted to expand, questions were raised that they did not have the answer to, so Stibel pulled back the reins and went back into the research phase. He wanted to look into how it would impact humanity.
“It might be cool to have perfect memory, but it would be terrifying if your memory could be hacked,” Stibel wrote (Stibel, 2017). “Leveraging artificial intelligence to make us smarter would be great; creating artificial intelligence that could grow smarter and more powerful than us is the stuff of nightmares.”
Stibel likened the idea of microchips in a human brain to Thomas Midgely, who introduced gasoline with lead to General Motors before realizing it could cause hallucinations (Stibel, 2017)
Ultimately, Stibel suggested that businesses should not allow profitability dominate a decision that could impact society (Stibel, 2017).
“I have no doubt that a convergence of the world’s best engineering minds can overcome the challenges that have plagued brain computer interfaces,” Stibel said. “The danger, of course, is that we may find out we can, long before we carefully consider whether we should” (Stibel, 2017).
Paul Lewis. (2017) ‘Our minds can be hijacked’: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia | Technology | The Guardian. Retrieved September 03, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/oct/05/smartphone-addiction-silicon-valley-dystopi
Anderson Cooper. (2017) What is “brain hacking”? Tech insiders on why you should care – CBS News. Retrieved September 04, 2019, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/brain-hacking-tech-insiders-60-minutes/
Frank Foer. (2017) How Silicon Valley is erasing your individuality – The Washington Post. Retrieved September 04, 2019, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/how-silicon-valley-is-erasing-your-individuality/2017/09/08/a100010a-937c-11e7-aace-04b862b2b3f3_story.html?noredirect=on
Jeff Stibel. (2017) Hacking The Brain: The Future Computer Chips In Your Head. Retrieved September 04, 2019, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffstibel/2017/07/10/hacking-the-brain/#7564cc682009
Gibson, W (Writer), & RL (Director). (1995). Johnny Mnemonic [Motion Picture]. United States: TriStar Pictures