Opinion piece by: Jennifer Gilligan

Today’s ZDNet Tech Today newsletter caught my eye. The headline was : “If we put our computers in our brains, strange things might happen to our minds”. This of course instantly brought to MY mind, the movie ‘Strange Days’ from many moons ago. In the 1995 sci-fi thriller, Ralph Fiennes peddles memories that are captured by brain-reading devices that are then shared amongst ‘memory junkies’ who prefer someone else’s realities to their own. The more they ‘consume’ the more it messes with their brains. (or at least that was my take on it)

I was utterly intrigued by the idea of being able to tape memories for playback. It seemed such a farfetched, but utterly fascinating construct of what technology could do – especially back in 1995 and in the time of cassette decks and the first introduction of DVD’s. Conversely, I was also petrified of what having a computer in your brain would do to humanity (hence the sci-fi thrill of Strange Days).

That takes us to today’s news that piqued my interest – here we are, 25 years later and Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) as a reality is almost here. While I was excited by the utopian uses put forth in the ZDNet Article found here, which included the use of embedded computer technology to help with artificial limb function and to help remap neural pathways for brain injuries such as strokes; I couldn’t help having a niggling feeling of uses more sinister. As an IT professional, I see ‘more than the average bear’s’ worth of what lurks in the underworld of technology. Which funnily enough, ZDNet also covered here.

“So why would someone want to hack a BCI?

Being able to read the thoughts or memories of a political leader, or a business executive, could be a huge coup for intelligence agencies trying to understand rival states, or for criminals looking to steal commercial secrets or for blackmail. There’s a military angle too; the US is already looking at BCIs as a way of controlling fleets of drones or cyber defences far more effectively than is now possible – being able to hack into those systems would create a huge advantage on the battlefield.”

Those reasons alone seem pretty compelling to me as to why hackers would most definitely want to hack into BCI’s. The rest of the article paints a pretty vivid picture of exactly HOW hackers could infiltrate our very brains through tech that is implanted there. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t wrap up with any ‘warm and fuzzy’ ways to stave off possible attacks; which merely reinforces my fears from 25 years ago about what ‘Strange Days’ can do to us in our now real future.

I, for one, will not be jumping on the BCI bandwagon in the foreseeable future. While fascinated and intrigued about forever being able to access my most precious memories and experiences; I cannot see the possibility. Unless……the tinfoil hat people really ARE on to something. Tinfoil blocks the credit card scammers from scanning your cards, right?

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