So, Elon Musk is at it again with another mind-bending venture. This times it’s #Neuralink. This is basically a chip implant in a brain that allows direct brain-computer links. Just like Musk’s other ventures, it probably indeed is the future, even if not right now. But there’s skepticism from the pros, which is to be expected, concerning whether or not it’s useful, now or in the future: “neuroscience theater” is the epithet being hurled.
As it so happens I recently came across an article about body-swapping. The researchers hail from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden (shades of wife-swapping maybe?). They discuss their experiment that shows how swapping bodies with a friend using virtual reality changes our sense of self.
So what? By using VR, the participants were made to feel that they had woken up in someone else’s body, in this case a friend they knew well. I won’t go into the messy details, but the experiment worked in that the swap definitely made a difference to how they viewed the friend, influencing the recipient to feel more like the friend. They could even “feel” strokes on the other person’s body, even though it was physically separated from the bod they occupied themselves.
That sounds like the common neuroscience psychobabble right? What possible use could that be to the human race? Then I happened to see the flood of articles about Neuralink (I guess the Master has decreed that the venture now go full-body flash promo impact). Maybe there’s a link with body-swapping?
Get A Better Body - Immediately
What if we change our perspective concerning prisons? I am more than sure that Musk is light-years ahead of me and has thought of this already. Could we use VR body-swapping as a new means of imprisonment or rehabilitation? Could a judge sentence a perp to 6 months body-swap with the victim as an alternative to a 5-year conventional jail sentence? Or more positively, could he sentence an offender to a body-swap as rehabilitation, substituting for a jail sentence or probation?
If we sentenced a DUI homicide offender to live in the bodies of his victims and their families for 6 hours a day at home for a period of 6 months, would that be more effective in rehabilitation than putting him in prison for 20 years (yep, I know someone for whom that actually occurred). Could we put him in the bodies of people other than his victims who have similarly suffered? How about putting him in the bodies of the first responders and the medical staff who treated his victims?
Unlike Neuralink you could probably use the VR swap right now. All the tech exists. It would be a more positive approach than conventional imprisonment or rehabilitation. It would be no different to sentencing an offender to home-incarceration with an ankle monitor.
We’ve had lots of false starts with the corrections system. As it stands our corrections philosophy is no different to medieval approaches; put them inside and metaphorically throw away the key. It’s still rooted in the idea of punishment and retribution. A significant proportion of ex-prisoners offend again, 43% according to the Pew Center. That’s a huge economic and social cost. Maybe you couldn’t solve most of that using just VR rehabilitation, but even a few percentage points would be a huge start.
Clockwork Orange Redux?
And maybe Neuralink could be a way of getting VR swapping started more efficiently than getting VR-rehab or VR-probation. Neuralink could presumably provide an online VR-swap pretty easily.
Yep, I know what you’re going to say. shades of Clockwork Orange right? It could be abused, maybe terribly, by the government or other organizations including corrections and prisons. But, it’s likely that Neuralink-lookalikes are going to happen anyway. How about some innovation in corrections and rehabilitation to help make our semi-dystopian world a slightly less bad place to be on the wrong end of law-enforcement?
But there’s wider issues here too. Have you heard of #restorative justice, the latest innovative approach to crime and punishment; the idea that you rehabilitate offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large. That’s in contrast to punishing them which often makes them worse. Body-swapping could be a gateway to restorative justice too. That would be a breakthrough.
What About Justice?
It seems to me that when evaluating admittedly innovative ideas like Neuralink we need to be thinking more broadly, especially about global justice and corrections and how to introduce restorative justice on a global scale.
Neuralink is interesting but I for one would like to see it linked to a broader social vision. No doubt Musk has thought of that, but maybe some reminders would be timely too.