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‘Creepy’ technology is taming humanity

In a grainy clip of a bullring in Cordoba, Spain, a man stands a few yards away from a bull. He has a red cape in one hand and a small device in the other. The beast charges and suddenly stops in its tracks.

In a grainy clip of a bullring in Cordoba, Spain, a man stands a few yards away from a bull. He has a red cape in one hand and a small device in the other. The beast charges and suddenly stops in its tracks.

A voiceover from a 1985 CNN report explains: “A scientific milestone came in the 1960s, when Dr. José  Delgado demonstrated remote control over a charging bull. By connecting a radio antenna into electrodes inserted into the bull’s brain, Delgado proved the bull’s aggressive impulses could be thwarted by electronically manipulating the bull’s muscle reflexes.”

Antenna implants are so last century. By the time of CNN’s report, Delgado, a Spanish-born doctor in Yale’s physiology department, had shelved his ’60s-era “stimoreceiver” in favour of stimulating monkey brains directly with pulsating electromagnetic fields. “Any function in the brain — emotions, intellect, personality — could perhaps be modifiaed by this noninvasive technology,” he said brightly of possible human applications.

We haven’t heard much of such mind-control tech since then, but that’s  no proof it was abandoned by federally funded Dr. Strangeloves. More likely it went underground and became a line item in the Pentagon “black budget,” where funding is limitless and accountability nonexistent.

Not that such things remain forever into a deep state sinkhole. Nuclear fission, Polaroid film, photovoltaic technology, Google Earth, Apple’s Siri, and the Internet itself were all incubated in the classified world before blooming in the commercial sector.

In a 2010 interview at the Washington Ideas Forum presented by The Atlantic magazine, Google CEO Eric Schmidt was asked about the possibility of his company constructing a brain implant. “Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it,” Schmidt replied, adding that implants probably cross that line “at least for the moment, until the technology gets better.” Building on this weird contradiction, he observed, “As far as I know, we do not have a medical lab working on implants... I will check after this.”

“Google does not have a connection inside of your brain,” Schmidt confirmed in a February 2014 interview with Glenn Beck. “We’re not that good. Maybe yet. Maybe never.” In other words, this is a problem of technical innovation rather than moral limits to the search engine czar.  

If Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wants a piece of the drone action — another spinoff from the military industrial complex — why wouldn’t Google’s stakeholders and shareholders want a potential slice of Delgado’s vision?  (Let’s not forget Google’s recent purchase of the DARPA-funded, Terminator-style robot firm Boston Dynamics. Where’s that on the company’s “creepy line”?) And how many consumers would reject a subdermal implant the size of a grain of sand if it meant a telepathic connection with a sexy, empathic OS like “Samantha” in Spike Jonze’ recent film Her?

In his then-controversial 1971 book Physical Control of the Mind: Toward a Psychocivilized Society, José  Delgado argued humans have managed to tame and civilize nature. Now it was time to tame humanity, he insisted. Four decades later, the Spanish doctor’s “psychocivilized society” is closer to science fact than science fiction.

For all the public level pushback from Google, Twitter and Facebook  to the NSA surveillance programs revealed by whistleblower Eric Snowden, the worlds of public surveillance and private data-mining are not so much conflicting as complementary. They’re just different approaches to sheering the sheeple in virtual pastures.

Zbigniew Brzezinski is the ultimate Washington insider: a Polish American  geostrategist and statesman who has been a fixture in Beltway policy circles for decades. Three years before Delgado’s 1971 manifesto, Brzezinski breezily predicted the future course of technology in his Encounter article “America in the Technetronic Age.”

“At the same time, the capacity to assert social and political control over the individual will vastly increase,” he wrote. “It will soon be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and to maintain up-to-date, complete files, containing even most personal information about the health or personal behaviour of the citizen, in addition to more customary data.”

That was written in 1968. And for now, this is their psychocivilized world; we’re just texting in it.