FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Monday, June 06, 2005

Manipulating Trust

A very primal human desire is to control the trust of others. From hypnosis to roofies, we try all kinds of tricks. Now, we may be on our way toward a sure-fire tool for controlling trust... for better or for worse.

Scientists have recently isolated a substance called oxytocin, which appears to make those exposed to it more trusting. Clearly, if this substance is commercialized, the applications are both wide and the implications disturbing. Police could use it to get suspects to talk... and criminals could use it to subdue their victims. Marketers could use it on potential customers. Diplomats could use it in negotiations. And one can only imagine the applications in singles bars...

Says Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania:

"The use of drugs to manipulate human emotions is not new. There are spies and barflies who rely on alcohol to get people to trust them or at least let their guard down. But the emerging world of new knowledge of the chemistry of the brain as reflected in this study promises to raise some of the most difficult questions of bioethics ever encountered: When can such drugs be used to build trust? Can you use them on young children? And when would it be ethical to use them surreptitiously -- if ever?"

The question, as all students of unintended consequences know, is not so much whether a certain technology is ethical, but the extent to which a technology will be abused. With so many applications and misapplications of oxytocin, the potential is staggering.

Sources: Wired, Genius Now