A radical new technique to target and erase painful memories has raised “huge ethical problems,” say leading neurologists, because it threatens to artificially change a person’s personality.
The memory-editing technique, which is called decoded neurofeedback, or DecNef, was created for the treatment of PTSD. It uses an electromagnet similar to an MRI scanner, to measure various changes in the brain, such as the level of oxygen in the blood.
The data gathered by the scanner is sent in real time to an artificially intelligent imagine learning agent that maps which areas of the brain are active when particular memories are stimulated.
Aurelio Cortese, a computational neuroscientist and principal investigator of the ATR Computational Neuroscience Labs, said that the AI component is vital to understanding what’s going on in the human brain: “Machine learning is used to learn the neural representation of the target mental representation in the first place,” he said.
“This machine learning decoder is then used in the neurofeedback procedure, to detect the activation patterns and compute the likelihood that it corresponds to a target pattern.”
The second phase of DecNef is to monitor the parts of the brain where these “painful” memories are active and training the patient to control the impact of the stimulus.
“As decoded neurofeedback will have an impact on society, ethical concerns about this technology should be examined” say the authors of a new study. **
“DecNef… enables a tailor-made intervention, however, it is difficult to assess the safety and efficacy of decoded neurofeedback-based interventions in clinical trials because of a shortage of reliable preclinical data. Used for moral enhancement, it is a noninvasive intervention with a high selectivity for the targeted brain state, and therefore, moral uniformity, the most often discussed problem, can be avoided. However, it remains uncertain whether decoded neurofeedback is reversible, safe, or efficacious” (for trauma).
Or read some of the original research: Taschereau-Dumouchel V, Cortese A, Chiba T, Knotts JD, Kawato M, Lau H (2018) Towards an unconscious neural reinforcement intervention for common fears. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 115(13):3470-3475. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1721572115 and **Eisuke Nakazawa, Keiichiro Yamamoto, Koji Tachibana, Soichiro Toda, Yoshiyuki Takimoto & Akira Akabayashi (2016) Ethics of Decoded Neurofeedback in Clinical Research, Treatment, and Moral Enhancement, AJOB Neuroscience, 7:2, 110-117, DOI: 10.1080/21507740.2016.1172134.