Black Mirror-style mind implants might be manipulated to steal recollections by 2038

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Electrical implants that are being used to help sufferers of Parkinson’s disease will one day be advanced enough to steal memories, Oxford researchers have found. 

As the technology develops and knowledge of how memories are formed increases,  experts are growing concerned this could allow hackers to manipulate people.

People will be able to record and enhance memories in five years, buy memory boosting implants in ten years and harvesting and controlling memories may be possible by 2038, a report claims.

 

An episode in the popular show Black Mirror involves an implanted brain chip that allows users to record and replay everything they see and hear.

A recent YouGov survey found that 29 per cent of viewers would be willing to use the technology if it existed.

This technology may only exist in TV for now but is currently in its infancy and rapidly expanding and scientists believe this use of memory may soon be possible.    

The embedded chips are currently tiny pulse generators that treat patients with conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor or major depression.

Data is transmitted from these devices via Bluetooth so clinicians and doctors can monitor a patient’s state easily on a smartphone or tablet. 

Hackers of the future could manipulate this data transfer to erase, alter or implant memories and use them as leverage for blackmail or ransom.

The report from cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Labs and the University of Oxford Functional Neurosurgery Group claims that hackers could use the wireless communication to intercept data transmitted, to potentially take over the device itself.

‘Manipulation could result in changed settings causing pain, paralysis or the theft of private and confidential personal data,’ the scientists said.

Scientists expect to be able to electronically record the brain signals that build memories and allow for artificial enhancing or rewriting before being re-inputted into the brain in just five years. 

In a decade the researchers anticipate memory boosting implants will be commercially available.

And in 20 years time the technology could be advanced enough, according to the report, that control of people’s memories could be possible. 

Kapsersky claim that the healthcare impact of this emerging technology will be ‘significant’ but could be vulnerable to ‘commercialisation, exploitation and abuse’.

This could allow for the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories related to major political events or conflicts.

It is also claimed the technology could be manipulated for cyber-espionage purposes or related to the theft, deletion or ‘locking’ of memories for use in blackmail or ransom demands. 

There is no current evidence of these devices being infiltrated by criminals.  

Laurie Pycroft, doctoral researcher in the University of Oxford Functional Neurosurgery Group, said: ‘The prospect of being able to alter and enhance our memories with electrodes may sound like fiction, but it is based on solid science the foundations of which already exist today.

‘Memory prostheses are only a question of time. Collaborating to understand and address emerging risks and vulnerabilities, and doing so while this technology is still relatively new, will pay off in the future.’

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