Mind-control technology: The story of the lost body and why we should ethically care 

Start of the story

Imagine this: it is 7 AM, you just woke up, and you are feeling the sensation of tiredness in your organic body that is starting to consciously connect to the world. Welcome to a new day, you would think. You are feeling your boundaries, you know your capacity: five senses, two arms, two legs, and one brain that elaborates all the information from your body giving you the experience where you are. It is a new day, and all this is pretty clear. Then, you go to work. It is 8:30 AM, you are in  the changing room, and from your locker you grab your helmet. This is what you do, this is how the work needs you. In a moment you will wear the helmet, and the technological interface will channel your thoughts in an electrical signal, and send them to another technology attached to it. This is mind-control technology, and that is what you are: a pilot that flies with it. The technology on the other side of the signal is a reconnaissance drone in the other part of the world. Today your mission is to all day overfly a mountain area in search of the enemy hidden in the middle of the rocks. And so, you do. For the next 10 hours, you are flying over those mountains, in the other part of the world. Your thoughts are there, your consciousness is there, you are there. The drone is you and you are the drone. After 10 hours you go back to your base, landing there in that remote part of the world, far from your original body. Then your works shift is over, you open your eyes, and you are back in your body. Not steel anymore, but meat. No more wings, but arms. No motors, but legs. You are not flying anymore, and you cannot fly anymore. You are back in a human body, with the capacities and the limitation of a human. While driving back home, in your car, you think that just one hour before you were made of steel, as your car is made, and now you are made of meat. You wonder which is your body, what this means, and who you are. You never were so far from feeling yourself intact, and to all those questions you do not have answers to.

The only thing that you know, is that tomorrow everything will start again. You will wake up as a human, live the day as a steel drone flying in search of the enemy, and you will go back to sleep as a human. 

The world that this little story describes is not a real one, and yet it gives us food for thought. Mind-control technology is an emerging technology that professes the vision of what the story represents. This article will describe this technology and will explain why we should be ethically concerned about it, by pointing out the bioethical notion of integrity. 

Mind-control technology and ethical concerns 

Mind-control technology is a technology that connects the human brain to external technology. The idea behind this technology is to create a system that monitors and interprets the electrical activity in the brain with external electrodes. The electric activity is transformed into signals which are sent to the related technology, and once there they are translated into movements. The hardcore of the technology is a helmet that represents the interface for the user. Attached to the helmet are 32 electrodes which transform the brainwaves into a signal, communicating with the technology connected to it. In other words, using this technology, with just your mind, you can control whatever technology is connected. 

In the last two decades, several researches have been made on the subject. The biggest success until today was accomplished by Honeywell Aerospace, a US company that was able to connect the mind of a pilot to a C90 Beechcraft (a twin-engine plane), making it move. All this is definitely exciting, the dream of some to have telekinesis power is becoming real. However, some ethical considerations must be done. 

The argument is that mind-control technology needs ethical discussion because it can lead to the disruption of the psychological integrity of a person. This is problematic because it can damage the personal identity of the user, creating a sense of detachment from reality. More broadly, the damage to the personal identity in a work context, as the little story describes in the opening, is a harm to the idea of humans as ends in themselves. 

Mind-control technology is an enhancement technology, and so it fits under the analysis of bioethics. Looking at bioethics, different cultures follow and emphasize different ethical principles, developing a different framework for them. For the scope of this article, the European bioethics framework is followed, and the reason is quite simple: the author of the article lives and studies in Europe. In the European Union, four main principles build up the bioethical framework. These are autonomy, dignity, vulnerability, and integrity. If the reader is wondering about the reason for the choice of these principles by European institutions, the answer is to be found in the roots of European culture. Long story short, a big role in the development of this understanding of ethics is the idea of humans as ends in themselves, reflected in the Kantian tradition with the name of deontology. This view implies an important focus on the body of the individual because it is through the body that humans can be ends in themselves in the world. So to speak, the body incarnates the human being, and such bioethical principles provide a normative understanding with related respect to the human body. 

The violation of integrity 

The key issue of mind-control technology is the exchange of the body of the user, and how this influences the psychological sphere. This can be summed up in the concept of psychological continuity. Psychological continuity is the continuation of being yourself under a subjective experience during time. It is directly connected to the identity of a person, it is the process that makes us recognize ourselves in the child that we were and in the adult that we are. The article looks at the concept of integrity because integrity is not only concerning the body but applies to the psychological dimension of the person as well. Because the psychological continuity of the person passes through the experience of the body, if the body changes the experience changes as well. Thus, if the integrity of the body changes, the integrity of the psychological continuity, and so the identity as the final result changes as well. The key word to understand the ethical notion of integrity is coherence. The person develops a coherent story of him/herself to the body that has a starting point of connection to the world, building upon a psychological level the subjective representation of the self. The self is a result of a coherent story that is mediated through experiences. Change is an important element in this perspective. The world is a place of continuous change, and as part of the world, also humans are subject to this continuous change. Change and coherence co-habit the experience of the human life, and thus also the human body. What is important is the time frame. The time flow that is experienced by human enables us to create a coherent story around ourselves, making an integrated representation of the identity in which the subject reflects himself. But the rapidity of exchange of the body that mind-control technology states to have would question the coherence of the story, therefore integrity as well. 

Inside the European bioethics framework, integrity has four meanings: the first is a narrative of totality. The second is a personal sphere of self-determination. The third is a virtue character that expresses uncorruptness and honesty. And the fourth is a legal notion related to moral coherence. 

For the scope of the ethical concerns of this article, the important aspect regards the meaning of the first two. The reason is that these apply to the human as a subject entity from a first-person perspective, while, on the other hand, the second two are related to the professional aspect and legal implication to which the notion of integrity relates. 

Integrity understood in the first-person implies also a physical space of application of the ethical norms, and this is the body. By changing the body, the ethical space of application changes, breaking integrity under a first-person perspective. The narrative and the self-determination express the life context of the individual that, from a first view perspective, is connected to integrity that is connected to identity. From the following, we obtain that if the body is changed, also the integrity of it is changed, interrupting the psychological continuity, and relativizing the individual identity. Further, in the European Bioethical understanding, the personal sphere should not be subjected to external intervention. Mind-control technology is an external intervention, because an artifact outside of the body changes the integrity of its continuity, violating the personal sphere of the subject. Further, by using this technology in a work context, it would result as morally wrong from a European perspective because it will go against the idea of humans as ends in themselves, understanding the individual as means to an end. The end will be reached by not taking into consideration the identity integrity, with all its elements, that constitutes the individual. 

Summing everything up, by applying the notion of integrity to mind-control technology the article makes the point that one of the four principles of the European bioethical framework is violated. Thus, the idea of humans which the European context reflects is not respected. 

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