If you commit suicide while your thoughts are being controlled by someone else, is it really suicide, or is it murder?
This is a question I’ve been thinking about after connecting the dots between three seemingly unlinked areas: parasites, artificial intelligence (AI) and brain-computer interfaces.
As you’ll see, the three are much more connected than they first appear. And their combination throws up some interesting questions.
Real-life mind control
There is a species of fungus called Cordyceps that feasts on its host’s internal organs and then forces it to commit suicide.
When it has eaten enough of the host’s organs it moves on to its brain. It takes control and tells the host to climb to the top of the nearest plant or tree, then clamp its jaws on a leaf and wait to die.
After a short while the fungus then consumes the host’s brain, killing it, and bursts out of its head.
After a few weeks of growth the Cordyceps releases its spores, which land on new hosts and the cycle continues.
Thankfully for us, Cordyceps only attacks insects. And it lives in the jungle. However, it is so successful it can wipe out entire insect colonies.
It was featured on Planet Earth in 2008. You can watch a short three-minute clip of it here. But be warned, it will leave you feeling uneasy.
Another parasite, the lancet liver fluke, goes one better.
This worm larvae lives in snail slime. When an ant eats this slime, the lancet liver fluke burrows into the ant’s brain and takes control of its mind.
During the day the ant acts normally. But come evening, the ant will find the nearest blade of grass and climb it over and over again, until it is eaten by a grazing animal.
If no animal comes along and eats it by the time the sun comes up, the ant goes back to its normal life… until the next evening when the process repeats itself.
This strange cycle can continue for up to a year.
When the ant is eventually eaten, it dies. But the lancet liver fluke moves to the animal’s liver where it lives out the rest of its days.
While there the parasite produces more larvae which make its way out of the animal in its dung.
Then a snail comes along and eats the dung. The parasite goes through the snail and is left in its slime trail. Then an ant comes along, eats the slime and ingests the parasite.
The weirdest thing about an ant infested by the lancet liver fluke is that during the day it acts completely normal. It’s only at night that it becomes suicidal.
There are many other parasites which do similar, crazy things to their hosts.
Hairworms make crickets seek out water and drown themselves.
Certain wasp larvae turn ladybirds into braindead bodyguards patrolling over wasp cocoons.
Another species of wasp larvae invades the brain of its host caterpillar and cause it to whip about to scare off predators while the larvae’s siblings eat it from the inside out.
Parasites are, frankly, terrifying.
And the worst part is, we don’t even know how they achieve this mind control on their hosts.
It’s usually referred to as an “unknown mechanism” or controlled by “unknown chemicals”.
So now we get to my second dot, AI.
AI can now read your mind and predict your choices before you can
From the New Zealand Herald on Tuesday:
In a world first, AUT researchers have developed an artificial intelligence model, which can predict a person’s choices before they have even made up their mind.
The work is based on a new type of artificial intelligence research called spiking neural networks, which was used to develop NeuCube, a machine learning system modelled on how the human brain learns and recognises patterns.
Basically, what this AI can do is read your mind and tell you your thoughts before you know what you’re thinking.
Here’s what one of the researchers, Zohreh Doborjeh, had to say about their creation:
We know that only 10 per cent of people’s decisions are intentionally made, the other 90 per cent are made subconsciously by the brain based on previous experiences, history, genetics and other factors. This work will be a game-changer for marketing in particular.
A game changer for marketing indeed.
In the film Total Recall (and maybe in the book too, but I haven’t read it) while people sleep their dreams are invaded by advertising messages.
This technology could make that vision a reality. Only even more subversively, it could make you choose to buy something or vote for someone without knowing why you did it.
You wouldn’t even know your brain had been compromised, just like the ants don’t know why they climb that blade of grass over and over again, waiting to die.
Of course, AI can’t control your brain without some kind of computer-brain interface. And that’s where my final dot comes in.
Neuralink will merge your brain with a computer
The idea of merging your brain with a computer has been around for decades. Two years ago Elon Musk set out to make it a reality with Neuralink.
From Interesting Engineering:
Neuralink is a mix of futuristic science and brain surgery. Linking the human brain directly to computers and other electronic devices via cybernetic implants allows the mind to interface with gadgets and programs, and this is what Neuralink is going to be all about.
According to Elon Musk, brain-to-machine (B2M) interfaces are an important part of humanity’s future. It is well known that Elon Musk and others are concerned about the impact of Artificial Intelligence on the world and the future of humanity as we know it. By finding a way to increase humans’ intelligence to equal that of the Artificial Intelligence programs of the future, or superintelligences.
Now, this idea is still some way off. In fact, it hasn’t been mentioned by any major websites since 2017. But it is still out there, working away.
I’m not saying we’re all heading for a world of mind control and murder-suicides. I mean, who would that benefit? It’s not exactly going to make anyone any money.
But – and I’m really not trying to sound too crazy when I say this – mind control is going to become a distinct reality in the not too distant future.
I imagine, as with most major tech developments, it will simply be used to sell us things we don’t need.
But once this technology really gets going it’s going to change everything. And I think it’s an important thing to think about.
I’m sure there are already plenty of books, films and TV shows that deal with this idea. But until now, they were firmly in the realms of science fiction.
Pretty soon that fiction will become a reality.
I suppose we should just be glad we’re not ants.
Until next time,
Editor, Exponential Investor
Category: Artificial Intelligence