Progress in technology and science are opening up new uncharted territories reached the depth of our feelings. We saw this happening in the past first by observation of the effect of natural substances (like opiate from the poppies) and then by chemistry (possibly the first was the LSD in the sixties).
Now our understanding of the brain and its processes is making significant steps forward and this is being exploited, as an example, by chip to control epilepsy by interfering with abnormal electrical activities generated by faulty neurones (connections) with artificial electrical signals.
So far the possibility of interfering with the brain processes has been limited by the complexity of the procedures required. But now a start up, Thync, is planning to make interaction (or interference) with a brain as simple a using a joystick in a video game.
The development in sensors that I have referred to in several posts is now providing the possibility of of capturing electrical signals from the brain and relaying them to a computer at a cost that is becoming comparable to the cost of a joystick (for an overview you may want to read an article on Scientific American dealing with low cost BCI - Brain Computer Interfaces). Indeed, one of this "gadget" is produced by Mattel, a toy company!
What Thync is doing is to exploit this low cost BCI with a more sophisticated technology and a software that is able to calibrate the electrical signals sent to the skull by electrodes placed on the skin and to direct these electrical stimulation (by distributing spatially, temporally and in strength) to very specific areas in the brain with a resolution that can reach down to the mm size.
This has allowed them to electrically stimulate a brain to give sensation of relaxation and happiness, very similar to what might be achieved using chemical drugs (narcotics).
The effect takes a few minutes to manifest and can last for a few hours. The effect is highly dependent on the person so there is quite a variability from person to person.
Their product should be out on the market in 2015 and they will be using a smart phone to drive the electrical stimulation. I guess you will see a menu on your cell phone asking you what do you want to feel and by touching the related button you give yourself a "jolt" leading to that sensation.
We will have to see if this is really going to happen and once it happens what would be the reaction of the FDA! So far electricity has never been considered as a drug but once its effects may start to be comparable with the ones of narcotics I can easily imagine that the FDA and similar agencies will want to have their saying.
My take if that if Thync will be successful they will be stopped. But if they turn out to be successful that will be equivalent to opening up a can of worms that will be very difficult to reverse.
It is just another example of new avenues opened by technology that are leading us to uncharted territories where there is much more than technology to consider.
In the short term Thync hopes that their creation will be able to help people suffering from a variety of mental problem to have an alterative, more effective solution than the ones available today through drugs, with lower side effects.