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Scientists explore ways to transform hostility into peaceful thoughts
Dick Pelletier   Jun 18, 2013   Ethical Technology  

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to understand the science behind human violence; and then find ways to alter an enemy's thoughts by implanting false, but believable stories in their brains. The goal is to create a more peaceful scenario: We're your friend, not your enemy.


Critics say this may raise ethical issues similar to those found in the 1971 sci-fi movie, A Clockwork Orange, which, using vision-mind control techniques, attempted to force people to be less violent.

    Advocates, however, believe that placing new plausible narratives directly into the minds of radicals, insurgents, and terrorists, could transform enemies into kinder, gentler citizens, craving friendship.

    Scientists have known for some time that narratives; an account of a sequence of events that are usually in chronological order; hold powerful sway over the way humans think, shaping a person's notion of groups and identities; even inspiring them to commit violence, as evidenced by suicide bombers.

    In another area of thought research, genetic components are taking center stage. Scientists at the University of Buffalo recently studied DNA from volunteers and discovered what they refer to as the 'niceness gene', a gene that dictates whether people will be nice or are prone to antisocial behavior.

    Contrary to popular knowledge, being kind to others may not be something that we can only learn from those who raised us. It seems some people are simply born 'nice', and others, nasty.

    Researchers found that people who see the world as a 'threatening' place were less likely to help others – unless they had versions of the receptor genes that are generally associated with niceness.

    Today, scientists have yet to master the ability to change 'nasty' genes into 'niceness' versions, but by the 2030s, many predict that modifying these genes could become an acceptable and routine procedure.

    Others say managing thoughts, not by changing genes, but with drugs, offer the best solutions. Drugs, many experts believe, could reform criminals more efficiently and far less expensive than a jail sentence.

    In their recent ground-breaking book, Enhancing Human Capacities, co-authors Julian Savulescu, Ruud ter Meulen, and Guy Kahane explore how society will benefit when we use technology to alter moods, boost memory, and increase intelligence levels; along with the ethical concerns these technologies raise.

    Kahane says scientists are discovering new behavior-altering procedures that make us more likeable, sociable; open to other people's views; and will curb many of our desires for vengeance and violence.

    Drugs that affect our moral thinking and behavior already exist, but we tend not to think of them in that way. Prozac lowers aggression and bitterness, making people more agreeable. Oxytocin increases feelings of social bonding and empathy while reducing anxiety.

    Some question, though, whether society will want a pill that would make them morally better. Being more trusting, nicer, and less aggressive could make people more vulnerable to exploitation.

    However, proponents believe the benefits are too important to ignore. Pursuing many of the technologies mentioned in this article holds great promise to curb crime and violence throughout the world, improve personal and career relationships, and raise happiness levels everywhere.

    In another area of the behavior-altering arena, memory-management drugs are becoming popular. Data experts at Memory Pharmaceuticals, a leading New Jersey drug information firm, believe researchers will soon develop drugs that will dim, or permanently erase traumatic memories.

    And an even more radical technology, downloading knowledge directly into our brains may be possible by mid-2030s, says Georgia Tech graduate student Peter Passaro. Future brain-machine interfaces will allow us to receive data; and then convert it to memory, bypassing the need to learn the information.

    Clearly, the road to altering thoughts winds around unknown turns, but this positive forward-thinker believes the overwhelming benefits of less violence and criminal acts will push this bold science forward.

 Could this be the catalyst to forming a peaceful global village? Stay tuned. Comments welcome.

Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.


Overall correct, but there’s always an oversight: we are forgetting here the velvet gun.
“Nice” doesn’t necessarily mean justice. Perhaps the trajectory is—as it has been—to have our enemy cease their hostility so they can be kindlier and gentler exploited. Blacks in America aren’t rioting anymore as they did decades ago.. that is a positive; unfortunately now they can be placed in substandard housing, sold junk food and other inferior products.
‘Here’s your right to peace, now get away from me.
Here’s your right to food, now get away from me.
You have the right to live the life you want to live as long as I approve or you can wriggle out of my clutches.’
Sure, economics is based on self-interest; but the villain in Clockwork Orange is to be tamed out of violence but he may engage in destructive nonviolent activities? A drug dealer can nonviolently rape his victim by nonviolently dosing her with a nonviolent depressant. The drug dealer might do it as nicely as possible- and if she doesn’t remember anything when she awakens, then the dealer is happy.
No more riots as 45 yrs. ago—but now we can reject those who don’t fit into our framework, maneuver them into seedy neighborhoods, sell them substandard products?

Sure, science is science, we have to settle for “nice”, probably—yet isn’t technoprogressive (and just plain progressive) more than merely about “nice”? doesn’t the first ‘E’ in IEET signify Ethics?

Future brain-machine interfaces will allow us to receive data

Who chooses the data in the first place? Mother Teresa or Ma Barker? Don Rickles or don Corleone? Vlad Putin or Vlad the Impaler?

erase traumatic memories.

What of rather more pleasant memories for some [many] such as raping and robbing?

Drugs, many experts believe, could reform criminals more efficiently and far less expensive than a jail sentence.

Fine, it is important to be thankful for favors large and small—and half a loaf is better than none provided it is understood all around how half a loaf is not a whole. It hinges on compliance: if bad guys consent to treatment, they can be treated; if not, force has to be used if they are to receive treatment.

Finally, a way to more efficiently streamline the clumsy and unruly process of propagandizing the citizenry into believing the correct ideology.

Don’t worry, SHaGGGz, there will be plenty of badasses in the future- enough for anyone. Oligarchs at the top, thugs at the bottom. One needn’t worry the future might be too moralistic.

It always follows the same theme: is it “real” or not.  My Great Aunt used to say: “Everyone is different; thank goodness.”  Let me point out that once you gain the ability to alter people’s minds you get the Star Trek: Next Generation scenario where Data stood in front of a Halodeck audience and delivered a comedy routine, and was fooled into thinking he was funny, when instead the crowd was programmed to laugh at everything.  That is why many shows are broadcasted with a live audience so reaction is not only real, but valuable feedback to the performers.

Dick is not mistaken albeit there does appear to be a blindspot somewhere: the horse comes before the cart. First we need a civilisation to administer treatments to the violently hostile; today we only have islands of civilisation in an ocean of un-civilisation. 
Contrast Norway with America and Mexico (the latter two nations I’m familiar with). Norway sentences Breivik to 21 yrs. in prison for killing 75+ people. In America a mass murderer is sentenced to death; in Mexico a mass murderer might be shot at sunrise (if this isn’t too politically incorrect).
First America and Mexico would have to be altered thoroughly until both countries adopt more humane policies.. both nations would have to go from the death penalty and the penal to the corrective, the rehabilitative. Even prisons for the nonviolent—some inmates having committed minor offenses—are not corrective although they are officially, and misleadingly, called ‘corrective institutions’. Difference is:
Norway is relatively civilised; whereas America and Mexico are not—they are controlled barbarisms. Certain treatments already exist, unfortunately with a nation, plus nearly the entire world, which wants penal not rehabilitation- how do you do corrective enhancement on a scale greater than here ‘n there, sometimes?

Such technology strikes me as best applied - if at all - to leaders the U.S. military and other such oppressors. Increasing sophistication in techniques of control by the state constitutes a horrifying rather than promising development.

“to leaders the U.S. military and other such oppressors.”

Now here you have a good point.

“if at all “

The technologies can be applied, and are applied right now but on a limited scale. For a random example Paxil is used to control sexual predators; however as you know as well as anyone, treatments are only ethical if they are voluntary. State monopolised force is used to arrest suspects—some of whom are innocent of the charges they are arrested for—but even if treatments were to be legal, force would be used to treat convicts who refuse treatment. One reason men become criminals is they know the public and private sector are corrupt, so criminals believe they themselves are as legitimate as the larger society. Second, criminals don’t want society to tell them what to do yet they can tell others what to do; for instance organised crime is well nigh a state within a state.
Thus though treatments can work to a limited degree for subjects who consent to treatment, in the near future ‘we’ might not have much success on the large scale even if we can locate perpetrators in the first place. For the distant future, prospects may be better—after this century who knows what will happen.

The following is from a different thread: want to point out it is self- referential; the sort of self-appointed authoritarianism you criticise,

“As a humanities scholar, I’m trained to point baleful resonances out.”

Means no more than a dog is trained to defecate on newspaper.




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