NeuroNorton

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A recent piece on Wired.com brought me to the current issue of Neurosurgical Focus and Tadayoshi Kohno‘s interesting take on the potential necessity of, what he coins, “neurosecurity” – the protection of the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of neural devices from malicious parties with the goal of preserving the safety of a person’s neural mechanisms, neural computation, and free will. He suggests that as neural implantable devices become more complicated and develop wireless capabilities nefarious hackers may try and exploit these devices to alter, block, or eavesdrop on neural signals. Although Kohno admits this is a problem of the future, not the present, “the consequence of a breach in neurosecurity – where human health and free will are at stake – is very different from a breach in computer security, where the victim is a computer on a desk.” He stresses the importance of thinking about neurosecurity in advance of the development of the technology and draws upon the Internet, and its myriad of after-the-fact security issues, as an example of what could happen if neurosecurity is not a critical consideration in the design of future neural devices. So what if it isn’t? Will the shelves at home electronics stores be stocked with anti-virus software for the brain? On a somewhat tangential note, and perhaps because I had recently watched this YouTube video of a woman experiencing alien hand syndrome after suffering a stroke, I got to thinking about brain-computer interfaces and the difference between the experience of a device being hacked into (for example, a prosthetic limb being controlled by another) and the experience of being hijacked by one’s own brain. Further, what really is the difference between dialing into one’s own implanted device to elevate pain relief by increasing the activity of the brain’s reward centers and popping a couple Advil? It’s all manipulation of the brain, is it not?

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