The End of Freedom of Expression 3: An Attack on our Brain!

The End of Freedom of Expression 3: An Attack on our Brain!

"Humans are playing a game against the arch-enemy, disorganisation. Is this devil Manichean or Augustinian? Is he a contrary force opposed to order or is he the very absence of order?"

Norbert Wiener, to whom we owe these words, was an American mathematician and philosopher and is considered the founder of cybernetics. John Gray devotes some thoughts to Norbert Wiener and his ideas on the relationship between man and machine in his book "The Soul of the Marionette". [1] For Wiener, Gray writes, science was a game against nature: whether nature was a malevolent demiurge or a mere absence of order remained an open question. Even in the latter case, nature exhibited a form of intelligence, and there was no reason to exclude that the same was true of machines.
If nature could produce intelligent machines in the form of the human species, Gray writes, the evolutionary process would continue in the machines. There could be a game between humans and machines, which would result in machines exceeding the understanding of their human inventors.

In my recent contribution on the end of freedom of expression, I discussed the fact that states are allying themselves with the technostructure to hinder or disrupt communication and freedom of information. This text, which is the third and last in this mini-series, deals with the next step: the alliance between states and the technostructure to steer communication in the desired direction and thus control people's behaviour. The use of artificial intelligence at the interface between man and machine (virtual reality) continues to progress. I cannot answer the question whether this means the end of "free will" (if such free will exists at all). But if "disorder" and "uncontrollability" in human communication are systematically eradicated, it means the end of freedom of information and expression.

Big business

What we're talking about here is a big deal with, sarcastic as it may sound, enormous potential. Elon Musk and eight other investors founded the neurotechnology company Neuralink [2] in 2016 to develop what is known as a brain-computer interface. This interface enables communication between the human brain and computers. The chip can be surgically implanted in the skull by a robot controlled by a neurosurgeon. As with all massive interventions in human integrity, the primary focus is on individual benefit. For example, Neuralink's stated short-term goal is to be able to better treat serious diseases of the brain and central nervous system. However, the long-term objectives include the technical improvement of the human body ("human enhancement"), in order to keep pace with the development of artificial intelligence. This is neither a secret nor a conspiracy theory. What is perfidious is that most of the information on this development is freely available. The interface between man and machine is already a reality!

In 2010, the VERE (Virtual Embodiment and Robotic Re-Embodiment) [3] project was launched with 10 million euros of EU support. Using new sensory channels and the integration of virtual reality and robotics, the project team discovered that it was possible to give humans the following illusion: A body in virtual reality or a real robotic body is perceived as its own body when it behaves in accordance and in synchronisation with its own movements. It has already been proven that this works even over large distances. For example, a study participant in Israel was successfully "transferred" to a robot in France. Spinal cord injury patients in Italy have imagined themselves in robot bodies in Japan.

But big business is not only about pain and suffering, but also about pleasure. Michael Mandary's VERE project took a close look at body illusions. The German magazine Der Spiegel interviewed Mandary about this in 2016. What is the difference between imagining having sex with your neighbour and imagining that it is part of a virtual reality experience? Mandary's answer: "In virtual reality, it's much more realistic. You have the 'illusion of place', the 'illusion of embodiment', it wouldn't be a fantasy. You would feel like you are there. VR technology tricks our brains and makes us feel that what is happening in virtual reality is really happening!" [4]

Measuring the brain

The technostructure is taking over the most complex organ that nature has created: the human brain. Ten years ago, the journal Neuron [5] presented the Brain Activity Map Project as "a large-scale international public project to map all neural activity and to completely reconstruct neural circuits". The researchers wanted to develop ways to measure "every action potential (spike) of every neuron" in order to understand how complex thoughts are generated by the firing of these neurons.

The Obama administration has turned this into a "great American project": the BRAIN (Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies®) [6] initiative aims, in its own words, to revolutionise the understanding of the human brain. It goes without saying that the two main players in this project are DARPA [7] and IARPA [8]. The US military and secret service are at the forefront when it comes to developing artificial intelligence, machine learning, quantum computers and artificial biology.

Under the BRAIN Initiative, the next step is to further quantify complex human behaviour and link it to neural maps of the brain and recordings of brain activity. New funding has recently been announced for researchers to develop the next generation of instruments to study how neural networks generate human behaviour, thoughts and mood. [9]

There is also a European variant on this subject: the Human Brain Project. [10] In a recent publication on "Deploying and optimizing Embodied Simulations of Large-Scale Spiking Neural Networks on HPC Infrastructure", the research objective reads:

"While theories exist that describe how brain architecture and neuronal activity support human-specific, higher-level cognitive abilities such as common sense, capacity for generalization and self-awareness, their experimental validation in vivo is usually impossible for both technical (e.g., lack of reproducibility, observability and perturbability) and ethical reasons. (...) In particular, it is only through simulation that the functional capacity of a given brain model can be consistently evaluated at multiple scales and under various operating conditions, or that the individual contribution of its sub-components to the emergence of advanced cognitive functions can be teased apart. In short, as Nobel physicist Richard Feynman concluded, “what I cannot create I do not understand.” Not just any isolated simulation will do, though. To have any relevance to data collected from living beings, the simulated brain must be afforded with the possibility to interact with a dynamic, physically realistic and sensory-rich environment. This is what we refer to as embodiment." [11]

The simulation architecture is currently being prepared in such a way as to be accessible to all. In short, the international scientific community, composed (still) of "living beings", is called upon to connect to this "super brain" in order to share as many of its experiences and capabilities as possible.

The bait must taste good

The interface between man and machine is a reality. Yet many people are uneasy about microchip implants. Different strategies are therefore needed to convince "living beings" of their benefits. Fear and concern for one's own life and health are among them - we have seen in recent years how this can work.

However, it will be even more effective to catch people where they are most vulnerable: in their desire for pleasant sensations, their need for emotional security, their tendency to make mistakes, their irrational fears and hopes. This is where industrial VR technology can target the emotional reward system on a large scale. The manipulation of people by virtual reality will increase to the extent that it will stimulate our brains to release the right combination of neurotransmitters that will make us feel what we crave most: Reward, joy, and happiness. [12] Only these feelings will have nothing to do with the real world!

This analysis was first published in: Le Courrier des Stratèges on August 27th, 2022

[1] John Gray, The Soul of the Marionette. A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom, Penguin 2016, 102-103