Science Sunday: Killer Mice Are No Joke

Read this NPR story.

Sure enough, the scientists found one set of neurons in the amygdala, a structure involved in emotion and motivation, that became active when a mouse was pursuing prey. They found a second set of neurons in the amygdala that became active when the animal was biting and killing.

Then the team used a technique called optogenetics to create mice in which both sets of neurons could be controlled using light from a laser. That gave the researchers “an on-off switch for either or both of the circuits,” De Araujo says.

“When we stimulate [both sets of] neurons it is as if there is a prey in front of the animal,” De Araujo says. “They assume the body posture and actions usually associated with real hunting.”

Horrified yet? I know, this is research, simply to learn. But how far are we away from this?

I don’t want to be alarmist here, but –

No, scratch that. I do want to be alarmist. Mind control is a long-standing trope of science fiction, but this… They don’t control the mouse, they simply make it want to do what they want it to do.

They reprogram it.

They take away its little mousy free will.

This is an early, crude step on a long road; but sooner or later that road ends with somebody deciding what other people want, how they respond to the world.

But who decides? And for whom? If you think it’s a good idea, just remember: it’s virtually certain that you’ll be one of those reprogrammed, not one of the elite. Who should be your slave master? Will you willingly be a slave? A happy slave who wants to be enslaved?

On Science Sunday, I’m supposed to look for the story potential in some recent scientific work. Well, the potential I see here is horrific, dystopian, and totalitarian.

And I worry how long it will remain fiction.

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