Could hackers create a 'computer virus' that infects the human mind and turn victims into electronic zombies?
One leading futurist thinks it's a terrifying possibility and is warning against such a thing in the not-too-distant future.
Synthetic biology and man-machine interfaces
Creating machine viruses that hack the brain and invade the human mind might sound like science fiction to some, but the real science is rapidly approaching. Synthetic biology—the ability to design artificial life—wedded to the emerging technology of man-machine interfacing creates a combination that is potentially deadly and one more than enough to whet the appetite of criminal hackers…or would-be Hitlers.
Experts claim that synthetic biology is accelerating faster than evolution and researchers like Andrew Hessel who's lecturing at NASA's Singularity University on the promises—and dangers—of the emerging technology warn that tomorrow's hackers could develop insidious viruses or bacteria designed to hijack the brain and direct the thoughts of a human mind.
Bioinformation systems being developed today could be bent to the purposes of criminal organizations or rogue states and used to attack political or industrial targets, even an entire population.
While Hessel's dark vision focuses primarily on his belief that bioengineering is reaching the stage that information technology has, a deeper, perhaps more ominous danger lies in the concurrent development of man-machine interfacing that has almost universal applications.
Could a virus jump from silicon to carbon-based life?
At this moment, people are not threatened by a computer virus jumping the chasm from machine to human to infect the biochemical computer that comprises the human brain. But the architecture to permit such a horrific possibility is being created.
There may come a time when script-writing life will become as easy as writing a programming script for a computer. Some, like Hessel, see the day when the two technologies will merge and hackers will threaten not only hardware, but the biology of the human brain.
Will anti-virus services like Norton or Kaspersky be established to detect and contain and counterattack viruses, worms and malware scripts designed to infect the human mind? Perhaps.
According to Hessel and other leading bioengineering and bioinformation experts, the emerging technology of synthetic life is undoubtedly one of the world's most powerful technologies. What is being done with computers today will be done with biosystems tomorrow, he says.
"I advocate that cells are living computers," Hessel told the students at the university, "and DNA is a programming language."
Hessel sees malicious scripts infecting people through vaccines, or other methods. But the future may hold more diabolical surprises.
Downloading data directly into the brain
A technology that hackers in the future could access to attack the human mind is the emerging systems that permit downloading data directly into the human brain. Such man-machine interfaces could be compromised and permit malicious scripts to be implanted directly into unsuspecting brains-even if sophisticated filters and traps are used.
Transferring information designed to take control, cause malicious mischief or override a person's willpower might be accomplished through the use of magnetic fields or even through special computer monitors feeding the information directly into the brain through certain frequencies of light.
Can protection against such intrusion be guaranteed? No.
After all, despite the best efforts of security professionals, new malicious scripts are constantly being churned out and new IT threats constantly emerge. Virtually all of the threats are recognized after the fact—after they've already started causing havoc.
3D printing of biomatter and biosystems
Another potential threat of infection by hackers is the susceptibility and lack of security inherent in the emerging technology of printing body parts.
While downloading data perhaps is the greater threat, clever hackers could hack into printers manufacturing blood vessels, organs or tissue and introduce rogue cells containing synthetic codes and information designed to find its way through the body into the patient's brain. Hiding patiently, like many non-synthetic viruses do, it may wait a predetermined length of time or be activated by outside stimuli before hijacking the centers of the brain it was designed to attack.
Conceivably, people could be turned into vegetables, mindless murderers, or part of an army of zealots doing the bidding of institutions, criminal organizations, or states…like programmed robots waiting for their next command.