Virtual Kidnappings and the Advent of Neural Ransomware

tl;dr: Neural implants can make us smarter. They may also make us brainwashed zombies.

A few weeks ago, Elon Musk announced that he had developed a Computer-Brain Interface (CBI).

We are going to be seeing more and more of these types of devices hit the market soon. A world of cyborgs will become a reality.

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Some would argue that our smartphones have already made us cyborgs. Virtual/mixed/augmented reality is another step in this direction.

Having a direct connection to the Internet from our brains, which dramatically increases the bandwidth available for input and output, is going to create an entire class of part-human, part-machine.

Today, as Ray Kurzweil points out in his book, How to Create a Mind, our inputs are limited to what we can see, hear, touch, and taste.

Our outputs to what we can say or type.

Imagine increasing that by 10x or 100x or even 1000x.

The potential is mind-boggling. Pun intended.

So is the danger.

Let’s say that Alexa or Siri becomes a neural implant (think of it like a Cochlear implantfor data). Your input and output speeds for data retrieval is through the roof.

Your memories are stored in the cloud. You forget less and less. You can playback the actual images and sounds of your life. There is a Netflix Black Mirror episode about this, but I can’t remember the name at the moment.

There is no “I don’t recall” any longer.

Sounds great, right?

But now imagine that Siri or Alexa’s centralized servers are hacked or taken over.

Imagine that the algorithm that retrieves or stores your memories or provides you information from the web/Wikipedia is compromised. Imagine that someone starts feeding you “fake news” directly into your brain.

Now, imagine that someone develops a software virus that takes control of your brain/neural implant.

Instead of ransomware for your computer, it’s ransomware for your brain.

A virtual kidnapping.

Or remote mind-control.

You’ll start sending money to Nigerian princes and not even think anything is amiss.

You may start supporting candidates from other political parties or voting for things with which you might otherwise disagree.

Then, the industry will develop for “Neural Implant Anti-Virus software” with companies such as Kaspersky and Norton offering products.

Thing is, these companies will not be able to protect us for the same reason because, like the implants themselves, they are run on centralized servers.

There may be other ways to solve the problem, but a decentralized anti-virus network seems like it would make sense here.

Combine that with a decentralized VPN like Mysterium will have to come pre-installed.

I suppose that the good news here is that the brainpower (literally) that each of us contributes to the network will serve as nodes in a global brain network.

Both the interfaces and our brains will do the mining necessary to verify transactions and events (e.g. how many people attended a parade or Trump’s inauguration).

Still, while the CBIs will undoubtedly create tremendous benefits, once we start opening up our brains to direct control by others, we will need to proceed with some caution.

My concern is that the early adopters of the CBIs will be the most vulnerable and are likely to be the first casualties of this innovation.

It’s one thing if you lose your Bitcoin or the files on your computer.

It’s another if you lose your mind.

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Virtual Kidnappings and the Advent of Neural Ransomware was originally published in Data Driven Investor on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.