The Information Review
Information, Technology & Systemic Change

Ending Violence

Oct 12, 2021

A lot of policy rhetoric speaks of reducing violence in society. But an important question is when can we end violence?

Can we design an anti-violence machine? This is not a rhetorical question. Can we devise tools that can intervene directly in the neuronal networks of any person(s) engaging in violence? Brain mapping, brain-machine interface (BMI), brain-to-brain interface, and machine learning technologies can be used to develop infrastructure to detect and stop violence at the neuronal level. Our nascent ability to induce movement in a hand from a distance could be used to stop the movement of a hand engaged in undeniably undesirable actions like violence. The obvious question is how such a task could be implemented.

The cumulative result of brain mapping research has been our ability to zero in on parts of the brain responsible for various functions like speech, vision, movement, etc. Usually, to be able to extract data on the functioning of the brain and for a smooth melding of brains and electronic devices, electrodes need to be attached to the scalp of the human, rat, or monkey in question. In some cases, such gadgets have to be invasive. Some such devices come in the form of small chips that can be embedded in the skull or directly into the brain tissue. In some forms of deep brain stimulation, very thin electrodes need to be inserted into the brain to transmit small amounts of electric current to very specific areas. But in their advanced form, such technologies are non-invasive, that is - no electrodes have to be inserted into the brain tissue or the skull. Non-invasive electrodes themselves have undergone much change. The more sensitive they are, the less cumbersome they are to attach to the scalps of subjects. Companies developing wearable BMIs to control personal devices and gaming consoles are obviously engaged in making such sensors as minimalist and inconspicuous as possible.

Scientists are also working on stimulating brains via magnetic fields which eliminates the requirement for direct contact between the brain/scalp and the sensor. Transcranial magnetic stimulation is a way to simulate brains without invasive electrodes. In this process, the activation of neurons to initiate a physical action already happens without direct contact between the stimulating coil and the brain. Importantly, the instigation of such activity is possible over a distance using transmission networks like the internet.

The crucial questions for our purpose here are - what is the maximum distance at which a device can successfully stimulate a brain and how much could such technology be scaled up to stimulate any brain remotely? At what distance would a device have to be from a person so that it may be used to effectively thwart the impulse to do violence as soon as it physically manifests itself at the fundamental level of neurons? As this technology develops, how effectively could its success be translated into multiple brain-to-brain and brain-computer interfaces working in cooperation remotely and simultaneously to ensure a widespread anti-violence mechanism? Can we sensibly hope that electromagnetic fields could be used to create a safety net anywhere just like satellites and cell towers currently make mobile phone usage possible almost anywhere?

In summation, we are trying to envision a scenario where inter-connected supercomputers and humans directly interfacing with these computers provide a ubiquitous anti-violence safety grid. When it detects the very possibility of violence at the neuronal level, this human-machine network would interrupt those specific neural functions to prevent that violence.

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