A GLOSSARY OF GENDER-RELATED WORDS (IN HOMAGE TO AMBROSE BIERCE’S THE DEVIL’S DICTIONARY)

#metoo: Hashtivist campaign used to evidence how commonplace sexual harassment is for women, in all professional contexts. A group of men responded by using the self-defensive hashtag #NotAllMen, instead of the better suited #LearnToBeGentlemen or #GoodMenShameHarassers. SEE: harassment.

Agender: Intelligent individual tired of the obnoxious gender binary, who has made the wise decision to assume that gender is irrelevant (sadly, it may be to yourself, but not to the others). SEE: asexual.

Alleged rape: Perplexing way in which the media refer to the misogynistic hate crime of rape and which has no parallel with other crimes (alleged murder? alleged robbery?). In the case of rape the perpetrator’s presumption of innocence extends so far that the victim’s presumption of victimhood is questioned, hence the idiosyncratic use of the adjective ‘alleged’. SEE: rape.

Armpit vagina: Part of the female body discovered by actor Jennifer Lawrence, now a Nobel prize candidate for Medicine (sub-section Anatomy). Finding body-shaming not thorough enough, Lawrence proceeded to point out how female flesh folds around armpits producing a strange vaginal hollow. Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg might actually share Lawrence’s award, as the female protagonist of his 1977 film Rabid has a penis in her armpit. SEE: body-shaming.

Asexual: Intelligent individual who, unlike most current human beings, has realized that sex occupies too much mental space considering how scant actual time is employed in having some. Asexuals are the only sane persons in our sex-crazed world although, sadly, their position appears insane to the sex-crazed. SEE: agender.

Body-shaming: Abuse focused on declaring (usually on the social media) how little you like a particular part of a person’s body, or even the whole body. Since no human body is perfect, not even Naomi Campbell’s, and she is bound to age one century or another, it is a mystery why humans have chosen this way of making their lives harder. Defenders of body-shaming claim that they mean well and their abuse is for our own good. SEE: armpit vagina.

Brazilian wax: Torture method consisting of getting rid of perfectly natural pubic hair in female genitalia by applying a layer of hot wax and pulling hard. The technique can only be called Brazilian if a hair strip is left in the central segment; otherwise, the proper label is ‘Hollywood wax’. This torture method, which would appal the Inquisition, is, inexplicably, endured voluntarily by millions of women all over the world as an effect of the popularity of porn among heterosexual men.

Closet: Not to be confused with a wardrobe, particularly a cabinet wardrobe. In British English a closet is a small room that can be closed for privacy (hence water closet, or w.c.). Rich houses had closets used as walk-in wardrobes (or, rather, dressing rooms), but also as small studios; thus in Restoration comedy closets were often the place where adulterous affairs happened. In American English ‘closet’ refers to a walk-in wardrobe, not to the small room, hence the confusion about the meaning of ‘coming out of the closet’, an early 20th century expression. Some claim that ‘coming out’ refers to acting as a debutante, presenting yourself publicly, whereas ‘closet’ is often connected with other popular idioms, such as ‘keeping skeletons in the closet’. Anyway, the Spanish mistranslation of ‘closet’ as ‘armario’ is absurd, and it would have been far more accurate to translate the idiom as ‘salir de la habitación secreta’.

Consent: A word missing in the vocabulary of the patriarchal men whose sense of entitlement includes free access to women’s bodies, through harassment and direct sexual violence. Often confused with ‘yes’, the word ‘no’, used to deny consent, is often downplayed by these men as irrelevant, just teasing, or a product of women’s hesitant behaviour and tiny brains. SEE: harassment.

Dick pic / to dickpic: A peculiar variety of selfie which pops up unsolicited in women’s computers and cellphones and that, inexplicably, senders believe to have the same seductive value as the pic of a nice, smiling face.

Feminazi: A feminist in favour of building concentration camps where men can be exterminated using poison gas, while pretending this never happened. This is possibly a misinterpretation of the word but it is very hard to guess correctly what ‘feminazi’ does mean. On the other hand, no feminist in on record demanding that Hitler’s genocidal policies against Jews, gays, Roma people, political prisoners and other minorities be used against men, which makes ‘feminazi’ a truly mystifying word.

Feminism: An antidote to patriarchy. Of course, patriarchal men pretend that feminism is the same as androphobia (or misandry) and in this way they can dismiss women’s demands that patriarchy ends as mere men-hatred.

Feminism (Institutional): The terrorist branch of radical feminism. Institutional feminists force Parliaments to pass legislation designed to take all the power away from men to give it to women, so that men will know what it is like to be powerless. It hasn’t worked so far, despite the claims of masculinist men. SEE: Feminism (radical).

Feminism (radical): A dangerous gang of women devoted to running a vicious smear campaign against all men, despite the clear evidence that men, not women, are the victims of patriarchal power, and that women have no real grounds of complaint. SEE: Feminism (Institutional)

Gender gap: The gap between the platform where women wait for the train that men ride and the train itself. Despite the constant warnings to ‘mind the gap’ many women still die by falling under the wheels of oncoming trains that they’re trying to board. The few who have managed to become passengers do little to narrow the gap, as they feel very proud to have bridged it.

Gender labelling: Taxonomic mania that has gripped Gender Studies theoreticians, sex and gender activists, and plain people in the vain hope that the more labels you generate the more at ease will individuals feel with their own inclinations. It is not working, for gender labelling still insists on the central role of gender in human identity; besides, most people are labelled-against than self-labelling. SEE: agender.

Gender-equal: Gender-utopian (currently)

Gender-neutral toilets: Really??? What for?? To make who more comfortable?

Harassment (sexual): Very easy – any unwelcome sexual advance, from a mere verbal comment to an act of bodily aggression. This is very different from flirting, which is enjoyed by the two individuals involved. So, why is harassment so difficult to understand?

Incel: Involuntary celibate, that is to say, a man who hates women because the bitches reject him sexually and force him to remain celibate. This is NOT a tongue-in-cheek definition, but the real thing even though the term ‘incel’ appeared in the 1990s to name men and women who wanted to be in a relationship but could not find a couple. And who did not hate each other for that.

Mansplaining: A label used for men’s constant offering of unrequired explanations in a patronising tone to women, in the belief that we generally know little about everything and are too shy to ask for an explanation from our always better informed male peers. Mansplaining is not general among men but mansplainers tend to offer all kinds of explanations, which is why they seem to be omnipresent. Here, by the way, I am ‘femsplaining’, which conflates ‘woman explaining’ with ‘feminist explaining’–but then I don’t volunteer explanations unless asked for them. And it’s my blog.

Manspreading: The taking up of extra space by men on the seats of public transport on the grounds that men genitalia need to be cooled by keeping the legs separate. An example of how men’s poor knowledge of their own anatomy combines with a sense of entitlement that ignores basic politeness.

Menstruation: Perfectly natural discharge of the menses, or blood lining up the uterus, every time conception fails to happen. Even though the practice by which menstruating women were deemed unclean and separated from the tribe is not practiced in the modern world, women obsess about concealing all signs of their period–as if they still could be sent into the menstrual hut. SEE: Menstrual blood.

Menstrual blood: Blood discharged with every menstruation. Unlike the liquid that appears in the ads for sanitary napkins, menstrual blood is not blue but the habitual dark red. SEE: period poverty.

Pansexual: Individual inclined to having sex with any person of any gender variation, which sounds woefully limited in the context of planet Earth but must be great fun in a pan-galactic context!!!

Paternity leave: Strategy followed by legislators to invite new fathers to be involved in the first months of life of their newly born babies. It favours caring men who, otherwise, would be booed down as sissies by their less caring male-co-workers but it is a pain in the ass for patriarchal breadwinners. Many men who drag their feet as new fathers claim they would take paternity leave if it were compulsory (and in this way they wouldn’t lose patriarchal face–or cheek).

Period poverty: A type of economic hardship affecting specifically young girls, who are forced to stop attending school because they cannot afford sanitary napkins or tampons but are body-shamed if signs of their menstrual blood show. This affects girls all over the world, also in supposedly rich nations like the UK. Really.

Polyamorous: A person who kids him or herself that having several relationships at the same time will make him/her happier than being monogamous. Unless, that is, we are all missing something…

Rape: Hate crime committed against the bodily integrity of another person who does not wish to be touched in any way by the perpetrator, much less be intimate with their assailant. Unless what happens in most crimes, such as robbery, the victim must convince the judge that she (or he) has been assaulted. SEE: alleged rape.

Self-objectification: Mysterious prolongation of Lacan’s mirror-phase from early childhood until the day before actual death, when Instagrammers will still insist on posting their last selfie (wait and see). Self-objectification is an extreme form of Romantic narcissism but focused on the body rather than the mind and its feelings. Like 19th century Romantic individuals, self-objectifiers are subjected to much ridicule and abuse (particularly body-shaming), which begs the question of why this Narcissistic behaviour persists. Perhaps Lacan knew.

Submission (in rape): A strategy followed by the victim to avoid greater harm during rape, such as murder, and often confused with consent, or even active participation resulting in great pleasure. SEE: consent.

Third gender option: A way of transforming all the problems besetting the vexing gender binary into a new set of problems besetting the vexing gender trinity. A solution similar to claiming that adultery makes long-lasting relationships more interesting.

Toxic masculinity: Patriarchal masculinity, that is to say, a masculinity defined by the privileges that patriarchy gives men. It is very easy to replace with an alternative, non-toxic masculinity but only a minority of men have seen the advantages of breaking away from patriarchy and embracing a healthier, far more satisfying way of being a man.

Victim/survivor: An individual who struggles not to have his or her life defined by the bodily and psychological harm inflicted by others. In current parlance, a victim appears to be in a weaker position than a survivor, who has taken many more steps on the path towards self-healing. Victim/survivors are often shamed and, thus, doubly abused, while perpetrators even get the support of family, lovers, friends and even complete strangers. SEE: Victim-blaming.

Victim-blaming: Strategy consisting of blaming the victim in, for instance, cases of sexual harassment or assault, rather than the perpetrator because while the perpetrator will listen to no argument and might not even understand he has committed a crime, there is an absurd hope that if only women understood that the wolves are there, they would take measures not to stray off the path.

I publish a new post every Tuesday (for updates follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from: http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. My web: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

BOYS CONSUMING PORN: A BLEAK FUTURE FOR HETEROSEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS

If you talk to the truly caring parents of any young girl, you will be dismayed by the appalling panorama they paint of what should be a placid childhood but is not at all. I refer here specifically to the way in which the boys’ consumption of porn from a very early age is poisoning the basic relationships between boys and girls and, indeed, the present and the future of heterosexuality. A recent survey–the Barómetro 2017 of ProyectoScopio produced by the Centro Reina Sofía sobre Adolescencia y Juventud de la Fundación de Ayuda contra la Drogadicción (FAD)–indicates that 27’4% of Spaniards aged 15-29 find couple-related violence and abuse ‘normal’ ( https://politica.elpais.com/politica/2017/11/13/actualidad/1510588777_948585.html). What I’m going to discuss here today might offer a clue about why legislation and education are not altering this disastrous situation.

Here is what is happening, in a nutshell: the moment boys are provided with cellphones they use them to satisfy their curiosity about sex. Their Google searches soon lead to porn, which they watch with no parental control whatsoever, and any place they feel like (not just their room but also the school bus and even the school grounds…). The habit of watching porn may start as soon as 7, depending on when the boy is given his first cellphone. Let’s suppose it’s, rather, 10. By the time their own sexuality starts emerging, say around 12, they have been accumulating a long series of images from their porn consumption on which they base their own approach to sex.

The girls, who are far less curious about sex and not much interested in porn, do watch it anyway, sooner or later, to understand what the boys are talking about… and urgently demanding from them. Pre-teen and teen boys learn from porn not just a series of practices (which are not that common–think anal sex) but also an attitude: they develop a strong sense of entitlement over the girls’ bodies in imitation of male porn actors. This manifests itself through a constant stream of completely inappropriate, bullying, sexualized behaviour which puts a lot of pressure on the girls, and to which many conform out of fear of being unpopular with boys. By the way, the cockier boys also happen to be the most popular ones. The better educated boys (who, surely, must be the majority) do nothing to shame their peers because they also submit to the abusers’ alpha male strategies of command. The teachers may notice irregularities but do little, assuming that these are private matters. The parents may remain totally ignorant (most girls do not report what’s done to them out of shame), or even downplay the abuse which their daughters endure as something trivial or, worse, mere child’s play.

Does this sound crazy? I thought so, too. But a) ask the younger girls in your family what is going on, and b) do some online reading.

I started by googling “child porn consumption” and soon got a lot of links. I learned, for instance, that back in 2008, a 12-year-old boy was investigated by the Guardia Civil as part of a Spanish network of child porn consumers. Yes, correct: a consumer in the ring, not a victim. See http://www.europapress.es/sociedad/sucesos-00649/noticia-nino-12-anos-investigado-consumir-pornografia-infantil-internet-20081010120059.html.

An article in the magazine Mujer Hoy, of February this year, simply titled “¿Por qué ven porno nuestros hijos?” (http://www.mujerhoy.com/vivir/psicologia/201702/23/porno-nuestros-hijos-20170223103740.html), mentioned a worrying report (also referenced in other articles) by Bitdefender, a company that sells online security systems. They may be exaggerating for purely commercial reasons, but, apparently 10% of all porn consumers in Spain are children under 10 (I’ll speculate that 95% of these are boys).

The figure is corroborated by the 2016 report issued by the Women and Equalities Committee of the British House of Commons, “Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence in Schools” (https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmwomeq/91/91.pdf). According to this document, section 6 “Tackling the impact of pornography”, “There is extensive evidence that children’s perceptions of sex, consent, gender roles and relationships are changing as a result of the pornography they are seeing”. The report adds that a 2014 study in which over 1,000 British 16-21 year-olds were surveyed found that “Almost a quarter of young people were 12 years-old or younger when they first saw porn online (24.6%) and 7.3% were under 10” (my italics). A majority of 74% agreed that “pornography affects what young men and women expect from sex”, particularly men’s expectations. “The most common answer was that young men expect young women to behave like the women in porn films”–young women actually meaning here children of 12 upwards.

The article in Mujer Hoy to which I have referred is very critical of the parents’ casual approach to how their children use their computers and smartphones. Whereas home computers have often been the object of parental advice about how to prevent the little ones from being cyberbullied, or accessing inadequate websites, parents seem far less concerned about smartphones. This magazine article informs that 30% of all Spanish children have been given a smartphone (not just a plain cellphone) by the age of 10; 70% by the time they hit 12. Do the maths… Kaspersky Labs contributes a scary figure: 39,9% of all the websites visited by Spanish children have pornographic content; 53% of children aged 11-16 have seen explicit online porn–33% using a smartphone. I’m by no means a technophobe but I see no need at all to put in children’s hands smartphones, not just because of concerns about porn consumption but, needless to say, because children have learned to use these gadgets to bully each other mercilessly (as any child will explain if only you listen).

Following the internet thread I came across the names of Allison Havey and Deana Puccio, authors of, apparently, one of the best volumes offering parental advice on these thorny matters: Sex, Likes and Social Media: Talking to our Teens in the Digital Age (2016). They also run the website The Rap Project (http://therapproject.co.uk/), which aims to “raise awareness about personal safety and prevention in areas of rape and sexual assault, while openly discussing how pornography and social media influence attitudes and expectations. We also address how media can negatively affect body image and self-esteem”. As you may notice, they target teens but my impression is that, the way we’re going, the target demographic should be, rather, children 6-10. And I’m not mentioning the obvious elephant in the room: the rampant porn consumption by adult men, many of whom are fathers in charge of educating little boys. Check the internet and you will find dozens of links about employees watching porn at work, and even winning cases after being fired by rightly indignant employers.

All this has a very direct effect on girls’ self-image, in ways you would never guess. Back in 2012 The New York Times published an article, “Off to Camp… but First to Wax?” (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/07/fashion/off-to-camp-but-first-a-wax.html?_r=2&ref=fashion), which is an early example, it appears, of a piece discussing a new parental concern: should you let your 12-year-old daughter wax her armpits and legs, and even get a bikini line wax? This seems almost quaint, thinking of the many pieces published online from 2013 onward in which teen girls discuss intimate grooming, including matters such as whether to opt for a Brazilian wax (leaving only a ‘landing strip’ of hair) or a Hollywood wax (complete pubic hair removal). Guess where teens girls got the idea of shaving or waxing their pubic hair… Right indeed!! From their boyfriends’ demands that they look like porn stars.

There is worse–brace yourself for what’s coming now. An article published by The Guardian (in their Lifestyle section, sub-section Women!!!) reports that “More young girls asking GPs about genital cosmetic surgery, study finds” (https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/oct/06/more-young-girls-asking-gp-genital-cosmetic-surgery-study-finds). The study, lead by Dr. Magdalena Simonis, of the University of Melbourne, found that 35% of Australian family doctors “reported seeing females younger than 18 years of age requesting FGCS” (female genital cosmetic surgery) (http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/9/e013010). Labiaplasty has increased threefold in Australia, the Guardian article explains, “over the previous decade despite there being no increase in genital abnormalities”. What Simonis found out is the “sociocultural influences” that lead to demanding labiaplasty affect all women; yet, whereas the older ones ask for this procedure after childbirth (or divorce), girls from 15 upwards are affected by “peer comments, the pressures of the fashion industry and exposure to pornography”. Peer comments? I should say boyfriends’ comments.

A similar piece run more recently by the BBC, lowers the age of British girls asking for labiaplasty to 9 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-40410459). A 14-year-old explains in an interview quoted in the article that she asked for an operation because “People around me were watching porn and I just had this idea that it should be symmetrical and not sticking out”. Luckily, she was shown the right images and realized that she looked perfectly normal and, so, there was no need for any procedure. However, Paquita de Zulueta, a very experienced GP, is quoted saying that “I’m seeing young girls around 11, 12, 13 thinking there’s something wrong with their vulva–that they’re the wrong shape, the wrong size, and really expressing almost disgust”. They all want to have what is now known in cosmetic surgery parlance as a Barbie vagina… And although the NHS claims that its doctors only operate on girls above 18 and always for medical reasons, it turns out that “In 2015-16, more than 200 girls under 18 had labiaplasty on the NHS. More than 150 of the girls were under 15”. Dr Naomi Crouch, presented as a “leading adolescent gynaecologist”, declares in this report that, she finds “it very hard to believe there are 150 girls with a medical abnormality”, adding that this type of surgery is beginning to be too close to (illegal) female genital mutilation.

It’s only going to get worse. Facebook has just announced the introduction of a new app, Messenger Kids, aimed at 6-12 year-olds. Yes, that’s right: 6 upwards. They promise to offer parents total control but, then, this is the company spectacularly failing to prevent all forms of trolling and bullying from affecting adult Facebook users… or should I say mostly women?

I’ll go back to what I have been preaching again and again: when gentlemanliness was lost, a valuable tool to curb down patriarchal men’s inappropriate behaviour was lost. There is absolutely no shaming mechanism that can tell young consumers of porn that they should never force girls into doing what they see on the screen. Legislation does not even apply to this matter and education is not addressing it because many educators simply do not know how to tackle what is going on under their own very noses. The parents are very much confused about the need to control children and might be themselves very often in need of counselling… Girls are not taught to defend themselves because the issues I am raising here are not raised at home, or only rarely.

How all this will lead to healthier heterosexual relationships in the near future is beyond me… unless the silent majority of well-educated boys and men speaks up. Because they’re the majority, right?

I publish a new post every Tuesday (for updates follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from: http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. My web: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/

WHO DARES IMAGINE THE NEAR FUTURE? ON SELF-TAUGHT AIs AND HACKABLE NEURAL IMPLANTS

This summer I started working on Indian sf writer Vandana Singh (see my post of 11 July on her short fiction) and I came to the conclusion that I really needed to do something to diminish my appalling ignorance of contemporary science. I mean something beyond reading science fiction… Just by chance I came across the daily newsletter offered by the Australian popular science magazine Cosmos and I signed up. For the last few months, then, I have been starting my working day by reading some of the (brief) articles referenced in their messages. It’s really very exciting.

The world looks different when you start paying attention to how scientists are fiercely arguing whether the fabled dark matter (the very fabric of the universe) exists or not, or when you are told that evolution might be actually be happening in just two generations and not as slowly as we believed. Last week I found myself voting for the best artistic image produced by scientists photographing brains: I didn’t know neurons could be that beautiful! Today I got enticed by an article about a marvellous finding of dinosaurs eggs in China… And, yes, of course, taking into account the horridly complicated political crisis that Catalonia is going through I can well say that science is giving me a different, healthier mental framework to cling on. The world looks in Cosmos far bigger and thrilling that that scary place portrayed in La Vanguardia or in The Guardian, with all the miseries of politics and economics.

This doesn’t mean that my daily intake of science is always tranquil. I am not at all, as you may guess, a technophobe and would even describe myself as a moderate post-humanist in favour of improving human existence with all the science we can use. Yet, I was very, very scared by a Cosmos article called “YouRobot: Neurotech may destroy your privacy and your rights”… Before I go into that, let me explain that while bland fiction about the life crises of old and young middle-class people, or about queens with dragons, or about surviving zombie hordes, occupies our attention, much better dramatic stories are going on in scientific research. You may have even missed the day when human history changed.

If you recall, IBM’s computer Deep Blue coolly beat world chess champion Gary Kasparov back in 1996-7 in a six-game chess match. Google’s program AlphaGo defeated go grandmaster Lee Sedol (the best player on Earth) by a 4-1 score back on 15 March 2016, a truly historic day. How’s AlphaGo (part of project DeepMind) different from Deep Blue? Brace yourself: AlphaGo is a self-teaching a.i. which learned to play the game of go better than any human being in just three days and after simply being fed the rules. In contrast, Deep Blue was fed a myriad matches, which it learned to process very fast. If you don’t see how AlphaGo makes a very deep difference in human History… you need to catch up. Urgently. See, to begin with https://cosmosmagazine.com/mathematics/all-systems-go-what-it-play-against-computer.

What really matters, I’m learning through Cosmos, is not at all what makes the front page. For instance, did you know that “116 founders of AI and robotics companies have called on the UN to ban lethal autonomous weapons”, that is to say, killer robots? (https://cosmosmagazine.com/technology/killer-robot-threat-must-be-faced-say-experts). Yes, James Cameron’s film Terminator (1984) is already happening. I learned in Richard Morgan’s novel Black Man (2013) that soldier robots are not in the end a very good idea, since they’re hackable. He speculated that genetically modified human beings might make the armies of the future, which sounds like replacing a terrifying nightmare with even a worse one… And it is happening.

If you’re not familiar with the word DARPA, then this would be the right time to check what they’re up to: https://www.darpa.mil/. I would say that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is the closest thing we have to a classic mad doctor in Victor Frankenstein’s style but with all the power of the US dollar. And if you just thought ‘how about China?’, well, let me explain that China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea are now producing cutting edge a.i., both anthropomorphic and otherwise, without any shared ethical guidelines for research whatsoever (https://cosmosmagazine.com/physics/robots-bring-asia-into-the-ai-research-ethics-debate). In plain English: they’re building any kind of robot they can think of and nobody is checking on them. Nobody is checking on DARPA, either.

Before you think that I’m producing here a techno-advanced version of early 20th century ‘yellow peril’ let me finally focus on the scary story I mentioned earlier on (see https://cosmosmagazine.com/the-future/yourobot-neurotech-may-destroy-your-privacy-and-your-rights). If you have read William Gibson’s classic cyberpunk novel Neuromancer (1984) you must be familiar with the concept of jacking into the net: Gibson’s ‘cowboys’ are hackers provided with a cranial socket that allows them to link their brains to their computer terminals (or consoles) via a cable and a jack connector. Right, so it turns out that Elon Musk, Tesla’s charismatic founder, also runs a less well-known company, Neuralink (https://www.neuralink.com), devoted to building a brain/computer interface (BCI or ‘neural lace’). This was founded back in May 2016.

In principle, the idea of being able to think as fast as you computer sounds attractive, more or less, particularly if you still insist on playing go… I have always said that I would consider having my brain tampered with if this would give me better processing capacity, mad as this may sound. Yet, I had missed, as you will see, a crucial detail.

I have just learned from the corresponding Cosmos article that a group of scientists and specialists in ethics, calling themselves the Morningside group, have warned that the Declaration of Helsinki, the Belmont Report, and the Asilomar AI Cautionary Principles (documents about which I knew absolutely nothing) are not sufficient to prevent neural implants from being exposed to invasive manipulation and hacking. The implants now being used to correct motor deficit in sufferers of diseases like Parkinson’s, or to help paralysis victims to move objects, might be soon current–and capable of reading our thoughts. These are, just recall, electrical impulses that, sooner or later, will be decoded and controlled by powerful a.i. owned by corporations (and/or criminals)–a process to which Musk’s Neuralink is actively promoting.

The situation is so complex I can’t even begin to describe it but if you’re worried that the contents of your cell phone and your personal computer might be accessible to anyone (not just hackers but also bona fide, um, companies like Google), just think of the scary possibility that your brain might soon be equally unprotected. The Morningside group apparently believe that new ‘neurorights’ enforced through international legislation would protect, attention!!!!, our identity, agency and self-awareness. But even they acknowledge that “history indicates that profit hunting will often trump social responsibility in the corporate world”(see Rafael Yuste et al, “Four Ethical Priorities for Neurotechnologies”, Nature 8 November 2017, https://www.nature.com/news/four-ethical-priorities-for-neurotechnologies-and-ai-1.22960). This means that it’s game over for human beings are we are now. Privacy, consent, free will and identity, as they warn us, might be over soon. That is to say, the subject which is at the core of humanist thought.

The Morningsiders offer as a hopelessly optimistic solution teaching ethics to anyone involved in BCI technology. In this way, these persons would learn “to pursue advances and deploy strategies that are likely to contribute constructively to society, rather than to fracture it”. The group even proposes subjecting BCI sector workers to a new, specific Hippocratic Oath. Yet, it occurs to me that more than a few doctors must be in Elon Musk’s payroll already and the oath is not preventing them from opening up our brains to outside interference.

Perhaps, just perhaps, just as current teenagers think that privacy is a relative, overvalued concept which only worries Jurassic baby-boomers, the next generation will think nothing of having their brains directly linked to Google, Amazon or Facebook. Or their Tesla car…

Brave new world indeed.

I publish a new post every Tuesday (for updates follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from: http://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. My web: http://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/