Suppose you could push a button and brainwash another person into changing his thinking to match your preferences. Would it be ethical to push that button?
You probably had a bad reaction to the thought of brainwashing another human. It seems counter to every notion of freedom we have. And you certainly would not want anyone to brainwash you.
But if you remove the word “brainwash” and replace it with “education” or “advertising” or “leadership” you have a perfectly acceptable situation. And in each case someone is trying to change your thinking to manipulate your actions. So why is brainwashing so bad and yet advertising, education, and leadership are considered good?
My hypothesis is that when you hear the word brainwashing, you assume it is something that might work every time.
On the other hand, we know from experience that advertising, education, and leadership do not work every time. Most people who read ads do not buy the product. Kids come out of school with wildly different opinions and knowledge, and leaders are lucky if they can persuade even half of their citizens to move in the same direction.
My hypothesis is that we are biased against brainwashing because we imagine it works, and we imagine it would work on us. But we know from our own experience with school, advertising, and leadership, that we are sometimes influenced as intended and sometimes not. So in the latter cases it feels as if we have free will. But what is actually happening is that when we can predict the outcome of the influence, we don’t like it. When we can not predict the influence, we imagine we have free will.
Or to put it more succinctly, if marketing worked every time, it would be illegal.
But here is the interesting part: Eventually marketing WILL work every time. As we learn more about how the brain works, and do more A-B testing, and more clinical studies, and more brain scans, the potential for full “brainwashing” is clearly upon us.
Apple is the current leader in brainwashing. When Apple comes out with a new product, such as their new watch, I don’t feel as if I have a choice about buying it. They are making me do it. I will rationalize it by saying it is for market research, or something. But as a trained hypnotist, I recognize that I do not have a choice in the matter as long as I still have money. Apple did that to me. I have no rational need for their watch, and yet I will definitely buy one.
(Disclosure: I own some Apple stock.)
What Apple does with design is similar to what the food industry does by manipulating the levels of sugar, fat, and salt in your packaged foods. Food scientists know that if you get those three ingredients in the right balance, the brain goes into addiction mode. Apple has employed enough scientists to know when their designs will trigger an addiction response (or some equivalent).
So why is Apple’s brainwashing of citizens legal?
It is legal because their brainwashing does not work every time.
But someday it will.
Someday a store will scan your brain in real time as you enter, learn all of your preferences from the cloud, learn your brain architecture from the cloud, learn your social situation from social media, monitor your pupil size and your breathing, and rapidly A-B test the environment by changing digital ads in the store on the fly until you literally cannot resist making a purchase. In other words, the store will someday be able to reprogram your brain in real time, without your knowledge or approval. They do it already, but not as well as it will someday be done. Today a store can influence you by, oh, say, 5% at any given moment. In the near future that will be 90% or higher. (Source: My colon)
Humans have been quite clever in learning how to program computers. But wait until computers start programming humans. They will be a lot better at it than we are.
———— Over at Top Tech Blog ——————
If my post did not creep you out enough, how about this technology that could someday allow a robot to control a human’s body, making the human walk anywhere against its will. The words “meat puppet” comes to mind.
Star Trek technology keeps getting closer. Someday your smartphone will be a tricorder capable of identifying the chemical composition of stuff from a distance.
And if your drone is not tilt-rotor, you are no better than the other drones in the neighborhood. Time for an upgrade.
Oh, and yadda, yadda, yadda, please read my book as soon as you are done with that other book you are reading.