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Star Wars’ Mind Control Closer to Reality, Says Neuroethicist

James Giordano

December 10, 2015 – We may not be able to influence the thoughts of storm troopers like Star Wars’ Obi-Wan Kenobi yet, but today’s neurotechnologies can to some degree influence people’s cognitions, emotions and behaviors, says Georgetown neuroscientist James Giordano.

Transcranial techniques (applying electrical current or a magnetic field from outside the brain) and implanting electrodes (allowing deep brain stimulation) that have this ability, he says.

“There is a growing body of evidence to suggest these approaches can be effective in treating a variety of disorders such as depression, anxiety and impulse control problems,” notes Giordano, a neuroethicist in the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center.

“But they can also improve or alter human behavior and human performance,” he adds.

Ethical Concerns

Giordano says that while such technologies are now used in medically directed and ethical ways, they could also one day be employed for less benign purposes.

“Let's face it,” he says. “Good just depends on who is defining what the good is.”

The neuroethicist notes that one of the techniques – transcranial electrical stimulation – is being offered directly to consumers.

When Not If

“It is not a question of wondering if consumers will misuse or even abuse these technologies,” he says. “It is more a question of when they will and what those affects will then yield.”

Giordano says there is a lot that can be done with neuroscience and technology, but the questions remain.

“What should we do with it?” he says. “Who is doing it? And what shouldn't we do? Are there certain things we should never do?”

Giordano says the answers depend on society, politics and economics.

“Of course Star Wars is science fiction,” he says, “but let's not forget that yesterday's science fiction often becomes science facts.”