Unintended Consequences

Hacking Your Thoughts

Will we ever truly know that our elections are safe from hackers? What if instead of hacking voting machines or spreading disinformation on Facebook, bad actors could hack the minds of voters themselves…? Laurie Segall speaks with Moran Cerf, a professor of neuroscience at the Kellogg School of Management, about a dystopian future where our thoughts become hackable.

Read an edited transcript below, or listen to the full interview on the First Contact podcast.

Once you’re inside their brain, it’s just a button press.

Laurie Segall: You’re someone who has a hacker background and now you’re a neuroscientist. So in the future, we could have these chips inside of our brains. Do you think they could be hacked in any capacity?

Moran Cerf: So now it, this just makes it much more efficient and at large scale. So up to now, we had to take a person, stop him or her on the street, ask questions, do a 10 minute process with them. Once you’re inside their brain, it’s just a button press. It becomes a lot easier and at scale. So instead of changing the minds of one at a time, we can change the minds of everyone in Michigan and make them vote one way or the other.

That’s the risk. And I think the reason we should talk about it right now is the proof of concepts that comes from labs just shows how it works, but that’s where we stop. We write a paper that says, this is possible. You can hack into a brain and change a person’s mind. That’s it. Then, whoever reads the paper decides what to do with it… In that sense, I think that’s kind of where science is right now. Science is able to cast a vote in a big arena of ideas, but whoever’s counting those votes, whoever implements them at large scale is gonna be the winner of the next election…

Laurie Segall: Do you think that’s the future…do you think that’s what’s coming down that we’re not talking about yet?

Moran Cerf: Yeah. So, I think the biggest fear is that. So I think that suddenly, you know, creating a misinformation ad on Facebook looks like peanuts. When you talk about I can just change your mind as you go to the voting ballot and just make you vote what I want. This Manchurian Candidate, it’s the only way, take over your brain and make you do what you do. You become a puppet and I the puppeteer is the biggest fear at scale.