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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Ethics of Memory Hacking

This can only end well:

Imagine being able to erase your most traumatic memories. For a soldier, that would mean no longer being haunted by images from the battlefield. For a movie critic, no longer recalling having seen “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.”

It’s just one of the fascinating peeks into the mystery of the human mind chronicled on “Memory Hackers,” airing Wednesday at 9 p.m. on PBS’ “Nova.”

“Memory is an inherently interesting thing,” the show’s writer, director and producer, Michael Bicks, tells The Post. “You think you know what it is, but when you think about it, you realize that you don’t.”

Many of us assume that memory is like a faithful recording of our lives stored in our brains, persistent and unchanging.

Shockingly, that’s not the case. Researchers have discovered that memory is changeable. The act of recalling something alters it.

Forming memories actually causes a physical change in the brain — a seismic discovery made by Nobel Prize-winning ­neuroscientist Eric Kandel of Columbia University. When you create a memory, new synaptic connections grow between neurons in the brain. But each time you call up a memory, it must then be resaved like a file on your computer — and it gets modified in the process.

While the stated goal is a noble cause, that is treating victims of traumatic events, at the same time, it will be abused.

Of the top of my head, I can think of a few ways.  For example, what if you default on your student loan debt.  Instead of just garnishing your wages, like it is done now, what if they completely erased your entire college experience and your career experience because of it?

Or how about doing this involuntarily with children.  I recall a caller on the Alex Jones show who said he was molested as a child and while in the Social Services system, they refused to take him off anti-depressants, even though he didn’t want to take them anymore (at that point, he was a teenager).

What if government bureaucrats just decided what memories were relevant and which ones weren’t?  What if they took your child from you and then erased all memories of said child in order to “treat” you?

The ethics of this technology are not to be taken lightly.  While they were humorously explored in External Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the real world implications are very serious.

While I do not treat emerging technologies as dangerous to humanity, I do believe that we must seriously consider the sinful heart of man when creating or applying these things.

Unfortunately, our current culture does not allow for such considerations.