Rafael Yuste and brain hacking: "Everyone has the right to neuroprotection" (Originally in Spanish)

Camila Toro Aguirre
January 20, 2019

Google translation to English 

Rafael Yuste is the ideologist of the revealing BRAIN project, collaborative research based on innovations in the field of neurotechnology. The Spanish neurobiologist, proposed to solve the enigmas of the human brain, through the registration of neuronal circuits that allow the creation of a map of brain activity, allowing access to data stored in the brain of a living being.

Within a period that estimates 15 years of research, the BRAIN project is currently in its fourth stage where around 500 laboratories collaborate in the United States and abroad. The Professor of Biological Sciences and Neuroscience, comments to El Mostrador,  that the project aims to "develop optical and electrical methods to map and manipulate the activity of each and every one of the brain's neurons."

Within this long-term goal, the Columbia University researcher says that "techniques are being developed to measure the brain activity of animals and people in a much more complete way," so the first experiments have been performed. in C-Elegans worms, Drosophila fly, zebrafish and mice.

"We are developing techniques to manipulate brain activity, in order to help patients who have neurological problems or mental illnesses," says Yuste, and emphasizes that "the project will not solve the diseases, it will simply generate tools for doctors and researchers in the future may know what happens in their patients' brains and help them. "

The mind is a refuge

According to Rafael Yuste, mental activity defines human beings, who live in their minds. This activity is generated in the cerebral cortex - the upper outer part of the brain - therefore, if a person has lesions in that area, he develops cognitive deficits in his behavior and ways of thinking. "We know that the human mind is there, what we have not been able to know is how it works."

Currently, multiple research techniques are being developed for the BRAIN project. In the case of Yuste's laboratory, "infrared lasers that can penetrate brain tissue without causing damage, allowing the visibility of living neurons" are being used.

Ethical codes: The right to neuroprotection

Not only is it enough to decipher people's mental activity. The innovative technologies used for BRAIN, would allow the alteration of the thinking and acting of individuals. "This opens Pandora's box, in which the rules for the use of these techniques do not exist, so it is necessary to implement them so that science uses them in a positive way and for the benefit of people," says the neurobiologist.

In addition, access to information stored in the brain could be used as a kind of "brain hacking", where the hacker can see what the person thinks. Given this phenomenon, Rafael Yuste proposes to establish a new right for all humans: the right to neuroprotection. "It would imply that brain data cannot be sold, because they represent people's minds and it is their greatest privacy. This right should be governed by the same protective legislation that prevents the sale of organs," he says.

Within the framework of ethical dilemmas, BRAIN also raised questions about the use of this technology for military purposes. In this sense, Rafael Yuste emphasized that it was forbidden to use it for this type of objectives. "These neurotechnologies are either prohibited for military use, or they are regulated in a very severe manner where people cannot be harmed," Yuste explains, adding that, "in 2017 we published a list in the scientific journal Nature, about the ethical priorities of the use of neurotechnology and artificial intelligence ".

The union in the name of science

The extensive work around BRAIN, has allowed hundreds of scientists and scientists of the world, demolish competitive practices and work together for this revolution in the history of science.

This alliance was not only seen in the scientific world, but also in the political sphere of the United States. "BRAIN has the support of Democrats and Republicans from the beginning, and it is such a solid support that the last budget received for the elaboration of the project, was much more than what had been requested," he says stunned, adding that "that never it happens, but the Senate and the United States Congress thought it was so important for the future of humanity, that the financial situation took second place. "

A freer society

The BRAIN project is a milestone in the knowledge revolution. For the neurobiologist, this research announces a new rebirth for humanity, because "we will understand the only part of our body that we still don't understand: the brain, and with it, our mind."

As for future projections, Yuste believes that "there will be many repercussions for our culture, society, and of course, for medicine, science and economics, because we will understand the reason why we do what we do and that will make us freer. ".