Generation WiFi wants brains hooked to Internet

By Leo Hohmann


According to a survey by tech giant Cisco Systems, about a fourth of professionals ages 18 to 50 would leap at the chance to get a surgical brain implant that allowed them to instantly link their thoughts to the Internet.

The study was conducted on 3,700 adults working in white-collar jobs in 15 countries.

“Assuming a company invented a brain implant that made the World Wide Web instantly accessible to their thoughts, roughly one-quarter would move forward with the operation,” the study found.

Generation Y professionals, those born in the 1980s through 2000, were only slightly more apt to say they would get the surgery, at 26 percent, versus 21 percent of Gen Xers or those born from the early 1960s through the early 1980s.

The study posed dozens of technology-related questions to professionals in 15 countries including the U.S., Japan, China, Russia and France.

“I really think it’s the cool factor. When they see something that’s cutting-edge, they really don’t stop to think about the implications,” said Liz McIntyre, a privacy expert and co-author of the book, “Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Purchase and Watch Your Every Move.”

Privacy advocate Liz McIntyre
Privacy advocate Liz McIntyre

“Especially people who work in technology but also just average people, I think they look at the cool factor and they don’t stop to look at the implications for themselves like their privacy and civil liberties, never mind the bigger picture for all of society,” McIntyre said. “It’s part of this whole wave now where the (tech) industry feels like they have an in, and they’re going to push it right through on the cool factor.”

She said many people have become “brainwashed by the industry” to the point where they think they can’t live without being connected to the Internet.

“Look at all the people carrying smartphones; those are tracking devices,” McIntyre said. “What’s the next step? We already have singularity. Having sensors implanted in people everywhere will be the next step.”

All commercial products have sensors, and some day all people could be implanted with brain chips, allowing the people to interact with the products and with each other in a whole new way. To many, that sounds like a brave new world that’s both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

“So you will have a God-like feeling of how people are thinking and feeling at all times. It will get to a point where you won’t have a choice. People will become more like machines,” McIntyre said. “There will be a central intelligence, and they will all act on it. You’re part of it. You talk about mind control? Everything will be known. Everything will be part of this collective, and if you don’t participate you won’t have a place in this civil society.

“I think it is very Orwellian.”

McIntyre said the tech industry is likely very close to being able to produce a brain implant, but industry insiders know they still have much work to do in terms of public acceptance for their radical ideas. That could be one of the reasons why Cisco conducted its study – to get a feel for how close the market is to accepting such a product.

“They’re not far, because we already have devices that can be implanted in the body,” McIntyre said. “I think the main barrier to that (brain implant) is public acceptance, and I question the study by Cisco because they have a vested interest. The more people they can portray as being accepting of this, the better it is for them.”

McIntyre, who speaks on technology and privacy issues around the world, said the people with whom she comes in contact are not so eager to be chipped with an RFID, let alone a brain implant that would connect their thoughts with cyberspace.

“You know, when I talk to real people every day, they don’t want implants,” she said. “Even tech people, privately they’re a little bit scared. I have people come up to me wherever I go saying, ‘You know I would have said something, but I work for this company or that company,’ and they have real concerns but are prevented by their job constraints from saying anything. It’s really not normal (to be so accepting).”

Katherine Albrecht, co-author of “Spychips” and founder/director of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering, said she also has doubts about the credibility of Cisco’s study.

"Spychips" co-author and consumer privacy expert Katherine Albrecht
“Spychips” co-author and consumer privacy expert Katherine Albrecht

In 2005 she interviewed hundreds of people for her doctoral dissertation at Harvard University and asked them if they would be willing to take an RFID implant.

“Everybody I asked, they all said, ‘No way,’ and some said, ‘Over my dead body.’ Some said things like, ‘You’d have to get me over the barrel of my shotgun first.'”

But the number of people open to such an extreme fusion of technology with the human body could very well be growing.

Albrecht said many younger people have been brought up to think all technology is “cool,” and they’ve also become less sensitive to what she calls “body modifications.”

“We’ve got piercings. We’ve got tattoos. We’ve got implants, people putting silicon in their bodies, implanting weird things,” she said. “In Japan, there is a trend for putting a doughnut shape in your forehead, so the younger generation has been desensitized to this body modification.”

But she still doubts that 26 percent of Gen Y’ers are ready for brain implants, as the Cisco survey suggests.

“I would be very skeptical of the research methodology that was used because in my experience it certainly wasn’t one in four (for RFID chips),” she said “I surveyed several hundred and almost unanimously they were against it, so either this study is flawed or something drastic has changed in just the last nine years. If you think the Internet is invading your privacy just wait till we have implants.”

McIntyre said Cisco and other technology companies will continue to fight the public relations war with the goal of warming people up to the idea of brain implants. But RFID chips will likely come first. They’re already used widely for pets.

“I think right now it’s a public relations game trying to promote this technology and trying to convince us all so we readily line up,” she said. “That said, those of us who are thinking about this need to stand up and make our voices heard, because if we’re not heard with a different viewpoint, then people will think almost everyone in society thinks this is normal so I must accept it, too.”

The study also found that more than 40 percent of respondents would allow their carrier/provider to have access to all their data in exchange for a free smartphone with unlimited data plan. More than seven in 10 Japanese professionals said they would sacrifice having sex for a month if that’s what it would take for them to keep their smartphones.

McIntyre said Americans, generally, are more trusting of technology and technology companies than Europeans.

“And you can see that reflected in the privacy laws,” she said. “Europe’s privacy protection laws are much stronger. America is much more interested in making a profit. Not that that’s bad, but because of that and the competition and the way our society is set up, we tend to go with the way society is set up and how we’re going to make money. Whereas, if you look at those other countries, many of them know what it’s like to live under repressive regimes in Eastern Europe. They had a gulag. Their neighbors disappeared.”

Among the other findings of Cisco’s survey were:

  • When it comes to self-driven cars, the majority of Gen X and Gen Y professionals do not expect them to be available by the year 2020. About three in 10, though, do believe they will be available, allowing for an easier commute leaving them free to get work done.
  • Roughly eight in 10 Gen X and Gen Y professionals believe middle-income workers will have robots that can assist them with various activities – although most do not expect such robots to be available by the year 2020.
  • About one-quarter of Gen X and Gen Y professionals would be willing to move to Mars or another planet if their organization were to open a branch there.

Charlotte Iserbyt, former education adviser to President Ronald Reagan and author of the book, “The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America,” took up the Cisco study this week in her blog, “ABCs of Dumb Down.

When one-fourth of a couple of generations is willing to line up for brain implants, the implications are chilling, she wrote.

“The article describes an addiction of proportions in which substance addiction pales by comparison,” Iserbyt wrote. “Imagine what the statistics may be with current young generations whose lives are shaped by addiction to technology from infancy through formative years of schooling dominated by ever more intrusive cyber ‘learning.’

“Prediction being fulfilled and even going beyond the book, ‘1984’ (but 30 years later) with willing humanity so controlled that people volunteer to subject themselves to physical implants to ensure connection to their slave masters?”

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