The Economist:The future of mind control

Lars121 lars121 at
Sat Jun 1 02:20:03 EST 2002

I can offer some accurate insight.... There is current research being performed in regards
to the development of hardware and software for "brain stimulation", but it is much more
complex than that. The research and development funded by the NIH/NINDS/NPP (more on
funding in a minute...) focuses on the development of implantable "neural prosthesis"
devices for functional electrical stimulation, or "FES" which in concept can reanimate a
disabled limb (paraplegic), restore hearing (cochlear stim or auditory brain stem
implantation), vision (retinal chip or also via an array of electrodes implanted in the
visual cortex of the brain).

Such systems are composed of numerous microelectronic  implantable probes (numbering
between 128 and 1024 currently) that feature integrated signal processing circuitry.
Basically, the devices are a tiny ASIC (a chip that measures about 1.2mm square or even
smaller in recent years). Each tiny chip interfaces with between 4 to 16 electrodes that
are attached via a microwire lead, or a silicon micromachined shank. Basically each
individual probe is about 1.2mm x 3mm (there are fabrication methods that can reduce this
size, but that is yet another issue) and the 4 or 16 electrodes are only a microscopic
"dot" that was created by laser ablation which removes a spec of dielectric layer and
exposes the path which is used to both record and stimulate the electrical activity of
individual neurons or cells. They are extremely small and can easily be injected into
muscle or nerve with a syringe at which point the signal processing circuitry permits
wireless stim and recording via radio frequency (RF) or magnetic inductive link.

There are 3 aspects which research scientists in this field concern theirselves with:
1. Development of stimulation parameters for command and control
2. Device size and packaging methods using MEMS, or even Nano scale construction which
allow more devices to be implanted for more control while causing less tissue damage upon
3. Biocompatibility, because devices implanted in a disabled child would need to remain
biocompatible for up to 40 or even 100 years.

Because the human brain and nervous system is so complex, developing feasible stimulation
parameters cannot be done using rodents, feline, or even primate animals or models. In
order to be successful, the devices must replicate the electrical impulses that would have
occured before the injury. Now think about that.... if the nerve impulses are lost to
injury, how can a scientist determine how to stimulate the arm and hand to perform a grasp
or reach function? The best way would be to study a healthy, normally functioning human in
a "real-world" environment or setting (and the complexities of the nervous system would no
doubt require a long term, chronic study), but such a study would  not meet institutional
reveiw board approval or bioethics standards.... well that's one roadblock.

Furthermore, research regarding the biocompatibility of various new materials needs to be
performed and determining whether or not a given material will, or will not remain
biocompatible for a human lifetime cannot be accurately assessed in 1, 2 or even 3 year
animal experiments, or via "accelerated testing" in bio medium such as saline. Just
because a device was biocompatible in a primate for two years, or biocompatible in bio
medium such as saline for 5 years, does not mean that the devices will remain
biocompatible for 40 years in a human during everyday use in the real world. The best data
would be obtained by implanting such devices as soon as possible in a healthy human
existing in a real world or actual lifestyle, but alas, this just wouldn't be ethical, so
I suppose the lab will have to suffice......

If you're confused as to where this is going.... here's my take on the whole thing.... the
devices are so small that yes, it is feasible to implant these devices in a human and the
size of the devices are so small, that diagnostic imaging at your local hospital using
MRI, CT, X-ray or Ultrasound would not show the devices. Now in the tragic event that a
poor soul was implanted without consent or against his/her will, attempts to seek medical
attention or support from law enforcement is flawed because just about every clinical
Physician you will find still thinks that their 6 year old, 1.5T MRI system can image "any
foreign device", but in actual fact, a Tesla field of at least 3.0T is necessary to image
the devices using MR, and even then, success is dependant on using correct gradient and
echo parameters for contrast. Another problem is that hospital procedure as well as HMO
and other political factors insist that we must go by "the book" and this "book" of
standard operating procedure is outdated because if a patient was in fact implanted with
such devices and if said patient told his Physician about such implantable devices,
protocol mandates an immediate Psychiatric referral. I would like to know when the last
time a Psychiatrist picked up an IEEE  or SPIE publication covering .6µm (micron)
integrated-circuit technology or the use of advanced substrates such as polymide, SoS or
SoI. I'll bet you can't find a pill pusher in any clinic who can explain AIROF or how
Tantalum can derive an electrical charge from electrolytes in body fluid.

My last rant involves the sci-fi and UFO stigma that much of our society has come to
associate with implantable devices. The internet is filled with garbage about "alien
implants" and "abductions" and there are at least 100 individuals out there who are
absolutely convinced that they have been implanted by aliens or the government, and it is
at least remotely possible or feasible that one, or for that matter, maybe even all of
them, are correct. However doubtful or improbable it may seem, my sole gripe is that with
our current infrastructure,  we are unable to determine the real answer. I do know that a
long term human study is the only thing that will allow significant advancement to be made
in this field and the fact that the devices are too small to be imaged in a clinical
environment don't do much as far as acting as a deterrent to an overzealous or unethical
research scientist.

My position may seem opinionated or extreme, but I am actually mixed on where this is
going. The positive aspects of this research are many.... humanitarian intent, the
technology could enrich the lives of thousands, even millions and maybe even enhance
natural human function and improve performance. The negative aspects are that there is
tremendous potential for this technology to be used as a weapon or in military/enforcement
for intelligence and data aquisition and to that extent, it could even be used for
political, personal or financial gain by an unethical individual who had access to the
technology. There are issues that force us to ask whether we are developing military
technology or a medical technology. The initial research of these devices was funded by
the NIH/NINDS/NPP, but funding from DARPA, the DoD, Army and Navy soon became primary
funding sources and their interest and budget has increased dramatically each of the last
three years. This combined with the fact that no efforts are being made to allow
researchers to legitimately advance the research to commercial or clinical success and a
general lack of public information and failure to educate the public of these advances is
a cause for concern and is currently a topic of discussion among those with an interest in

In returning to the original subject of how feasible it is to stimulate the brain so as to
elicit feelings or emotion in the subject, the answer is yes it is entirely possible to
some extent. Some years ago, the hardware limitations dictated that individual channels
recorded and stimulated GROUPS of neurons, however the devices are now sufficiently dense
so as to permit an intimate interface between one electrode (channel) and a single neuron
which is independant of the single electrode and neuron right next to it. This when
combined with current computer hardware, software and data aquisition, allows for very
precise stimulation that is variable in amplitude, duration and even temporal gradient of
onset and dissipation and researchers can replicate or duplicate a naturally occurring
brainwave event via stimulation providing they have been able to sufficiently observe and
record the same occurence a number of times. It is this process referred to as "mapping"
that permits the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the crippled to walk, and yes, it is also
then possible to evoke a pleasurable sensation, however my experience suggests it is far
easier and more likely for a researcher to evoke sensations of anger and hostility when
electrical current is introduced into the subject's nervous system.

Regardless of your opinion on this subject, there is one thing that we can unanimously
agree on.... more information needs to be made available on this subject because accurate
and factual information is necessary for any individual to accurately form an opinion and
any attempt to comprehend this issue is worthless if we are not in possession of the facts
and information. Education and dispersal of information is absolutely vital and the fact
that society can only find a 1964 Publication from Jose Delgado when attempting to gain
knowledge is pathetic. It's not the easiest reading, but reading the Quarterly Progress
Reports from research projects funded by the NIH/NINDS/NPP can provide a considerable
amount of information. These reports are publicly available to anyone who can get to

- Lars

Here are a few more links if you are interested:
Press coverage of implanted chips distorted?
Tech experts warn real threats go unreported by 'mainstream' media

>>James Teo wrote:

In the first article, they mention an experiment on humans conducted
> >decades ago, where someone with depression had deep brain stimulation
> >and subsequently had affections for the experimenter. The way the
> >article describes it is very anecdotal and I am very skeptical about
> >that ever occuring as described. I've scoured the Web and Medline for
> >this experiment. Nothing. Anyone have any idea what they are going on
> >about?

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