Can Brain Research Keep Us Safe?

Human conflict is often associated with the emergence of a new science or technology. The Civil War’s Gatling gun changed battlefield tactics and led to modern machine guns, like the M61, that are still in use. World War I’s chemical weapons proved difficult to manage in the field, provoked nearly universal revulsion, and became the object of international law and a remarkably successful arms control regime. World War II’s atomic bomb was the punctuation mark at the end of the war in the Pacific.

A decade after 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, what will be the signature technology of the war on terrorism? It could well be connected to the brain. Antiterrorism efforts have included a substantial investment in neuroscience research. The projects in progress have led to a great deal of soul-searching and wide-ranging ethical debates about the long term. For example, President George W. Bush’s bioethics council expressed concern about the role of human enhancement technologies in the military, while the National Research Council published a report on emerging cognitive neuroscience and its implications for national security.

This article was originally published in Slate.