The first neurostimulators are already beginning to appear on the market: some show effectiveness in the treatment of depression, others heal sexual dysfunction. Fantastic stories about people whose mental state depends on electrical brain stimulation will become a reality within a few years. Futurism magazine discussed with experts what challenges await us when neuro implants become available in the mass market.
More and more scientists believe that the “pleasure button” – a device implanted in the brain and causing pleasant sensations – may become a reality soon. Some medical research suggests this controversial technology is on the way.
Numerous experts, including the scientists who conducted the research, told Futurism that they believe recreational neural stimulation will become a reality and be hugely popular with consumers. But is it worth expecting good from this invention?
“There are people recreationally using electrical stimulation in several ways,” University of Michigan biomedical engineer Tim Bruns told Futurism. “It may or may not be recreational, but people are doing stuff off-label to themselves now.”
“Are we going to see commercials on TV or products on the shelf?” he asked. “I think so.”
Bruns has conducted several landmark experiments using electrical nerve stimulation to treat bladder problems. He found that stimulating the area around the bladder and even the ankle also helps treat sexual dysfunction, especially in women.
If someone takes clinical trials seriously to improve the effectiveness and safety of this technology, a recreational version of electrostimulation nerve stimulants will not be far off.
“It’s already happening,” Carnegie Mellon University mechanical engineer and neuroscientist Douglas Weber told Futurism.
“You can find many neurostimulation devices on Amazon. Some will make you stronger, relieve your pain, help you lose weight, and some will even make you smarter,” Weber, who was Bruns’ former postdoctoral adviser, added. “I do not own any of these devices. But I do expect that neurostim devices will be developed, probably in the next two decades, that will offer real and valuable benefits to consumers.”
The use of neurostimulators in sexual practices immediately comes to mind. However, these devices can be used for different types of pleasure.
Massage can be done using electrical impulses; get a dopamine boost to become faster, stronger, and smarter; improve mood. Scientists recently managed to heal a person suffering from deep depression with a brain implant that sends three hundred impulses a day.
Thanks to this device, the patient could laugh and experience joy for the first time in many years. Treatment involves implanting an electrode deep into the brain, which is why this method is used today only in extreme cases. But given the pace of development of brain interface technology, it can be assumed that neurostimulators will soon become available to a wide range of consumers.
At this point, however, it is difficult to predict how the ability to experience pleasure at the touch of a button will affect individuals and society at large.
The question gets even more complicated when it comes to sex.
“A big question that remains unanswered is whether sextech will ultimately become a complement to our sex lives or a substitute,” Kinsey Institute research fellow Justin Lehmiller, an expert on sex and psychology, told Futurism.
“While it’s easy to imagine how this kind of sextech could benefit people with disabilities or sexual difficulties, there are some concerns,” Lehmiller added. “For example, if you had access to a device that could give you instantaneous orgasms, would you approach sex differently? How will this affect intimacy?” All the experts we spoke to agreed that this technology is likely to be popular, whether it is a good idea or not. This means that it is essential to discuss everything now, while the conditions for creating a consumer version of the device are not yet available.
Because, for better or for worse, people will always use medically-derived technology in ways that its creators didn’t intend for them to. “I mean everyone’s got wants and needs,” Bruns told Futurism. “Some people may go farther for whatever it may be.”
Bruns compares the introduction of the pleasure button to a wide range of consumers taking Viagra without a prescription. In his opinion, this will happen soon, but it will not be a disaster. He also believes that when more efficient medical devices become available, it will become easier for companies to build consumer gadgets based on them and for the general public to accept them.
“People are also getting more comfortable with inserting tech into their bodies in general when you think about things like pacemakers, contraceptive implants, and insulin implants,” Lehmiller said, “so the more that people get comfortable with this kind of thing, the more likely it is that they’ll be open to other possibilities that emerge.”
Avoiding separation between people is a critical task. If the pleasure button does appear, people may begin to withdraw into themselves – like the cocaine-addicted rat in a psychological experiment – instead of interacting with others and with the world around them.
This can be disastrous for human health. In addition, the question will arise of who is responsible for the well-being of citizens: the people themselves, the manufacturers of implants, or the regulators who will control the neurostimulator industry in the same way they monitor the production of drugs today.
Or maybe there won’t be any problems. After all, research shows that even rats prefer the company of their own kind to heroin. New technologies of pleasure will certainly not harm if we live in a society where the needs of citizens are met, and they are free to experiment.
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