Joss Whedon's new show Dollhouse is about a secret organization that supplies mind-wiped sex ninjas to the rich. It's not set in the future because neuromanipulated technoslaves could exist today. Here's proof.
1. We can erase people's memories.
Back in October a study was published in Neuron that proved an enzyme called CaMKII can erase bad memories while you recall them. In Dollhouse, the "actives" have their own memories erased first, and then new memories implanted. The brain-erasure technology is actually the cornerstone of the operation, as it's what turns the actives into blank slates ready to be reprogrammed. Right now, with the cooperation of desperate people, scientists could be using CaMKII to erase their old lives. Then they'll just need to implant new personalities and emotions.
2. We can regulate people's moods with microchips.
Right now, there are a series of implantable microchips on the market that send out electrical impulses over your nerves that can soothe a depressed person or reduce seizures. Some call them neurological pacemakers, and we are discovering new things about them every day - such as the fact that some can cause instant orgasm. Wipe somebody's brain, then install these brain pacemakers, and you might start shaping a whole new person by controlling what gives them pleasure and what makes them depressed.
3. We can use brain implants to steer animals left and right.
Several years ago, neuroscientists invented a little rat-sized brain implant that sent directional signals to the rodent's brain. Using a handheld remote, scientists sent electrical signals to the parts of the rats' brains connected to right and left whisker sensations - and could induce the rats to turn right or left at the press of a button. Dubbed the "robo-rat," the creatures could be used for complicated search and rescue efforts that require crawling into small places. Or they could be the beta version for a more nefarious technology implanted into humans' brains that would allow a corporation like the Dollhouse to remote-control an active's every move, right down to which street they turn on.
4. Infrared brain scans can predict what people want.
As we reported last week, researchers have discovered that a simple infrared brain scan can reveal patterns in brain activity that show simple preferences. Ask a person whether they'd rather have a dog or a cat, and this scan will give you the answer. This is the first step towards knowing how to shape people's preferences. If scientists could trigger a reaction in your brain that reversed the pattern, they might be able to turn a cat person into a dog person and vice versa.
5. Human-computer interfaces link human brains directly to computers.
You may have heard of BrainGate, a technology that uses electrodes sunk into your gray matter to convert electrical impulses from your brain into computer commands. It is currently used by people who are profoundly paralyzed to communicate by moving a cursor around. If we can open up communication between brain and computer like that, it stands to reason that the communication might be two-way. Who is to say there is no secret organization using a BrainGate-esque technology to reprogram people's thoughts?