Could your brain be hacked?

We all feel in control of our actions and thoughts. Its what defines us. But as biology and technology begin to intertwine, the question remains: Could your brain be hacked? The truth is the brain is an electrical device, and because of this we can interface it to our own electronic devices. In fact hundreds of thousands of people are already taking advantages of this with cochlear implants. A type of hearing aid that mimics sound to the brain through electrical impulses. However, electricity isn't exactly precise. It ends up spreading signals across many neurons in the brain. And in the case of hearing, it can make the signal muddy or blurry. To solve this problem, researchers have found a way to use light, which you can aim and is much more precise, to stimulate the desired part of the brain. And its this light that may be the key to very specific control over the brain. But first these cells must somehow learn how to use light as an input source. As crazy as it may seem, a harmless, non-reproducing virus is used to insert genes into the desired neurons or brain cells. These genes are taken from other organisms that use light to survive such as algae. Surprisingly, we use the same genetic and cellular mechanisms as them, so if you take DNA from one and insert it in another, it still works. These genes encode for proteins that allow the neurons or brain cells to act as a solar cell. As a result, they react to incoming light and convert it to an electrical signal, while cells without the new DNA remain unreactive. All we need now is an optical source to shine light on these neurons when we want them activated. Create this set up within the reward systems of the brain and you could make someone happy with the push of a button. Stick it into the motor cortex and you could control parts of movement. And this is exactly what scientists have done. This mouse has fibre optic cables wired into its right motor cortex, which controls movement to the left. As soon as the light is shone into its altered solar panel neurons, it cannot help but run to the left. Its thoughts and actions have been hacked. So what happens when we begin to stick technology into our brains? On the one hand, it may open the door to managing physically debilitating diseases, personality disorders or even conditions such as depression. Turn on or off the necessary cells, and voila. Heck, the average person may be able to integrate this technology in order to augment their vision, or play video games in their mind. And as we begin to understand the intricacies of the brain which regions specifically control which actions and thoughts, this technology will bear even more significance. However, the ethical concerns and risks lurk quietly around the corner. So knowing your brain could be hacked, would you want this technolgy in your brain?

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