The death penalty is one of America’s most contentious issues. Critics complain that capital punishment is inhumane, pointing out how some executions have failed to quickly kill criminals (and instead tortured them). Supporters of the death penalty fire back saying capital punishment deters violent crime in society and serves justice to wronged victims. Complicating the matter is that political, ethnic, and religious lines don’t easily distinguish death penalty advocates from its critics. In fact, only 31 states even allow capital punishment, so America is largely divided on the issue.
Regardless of the debate—which shows no signs of easing as we head into the 2016 elections—I think technology will change the entire conversation in the next 10 to 20 years, rendering many of the most potent issues obsolete.
For example, it’s likely we will have cranial implants in two decades time that will be able to send signals to our brains that manipulate our behaviors. Those implants will be able to control out-of-control tempers and violent actions—and maybe even unsavory thoughts. This type of tech raises the obvious question: Instead of killing someone who has committed a terrible crime, should we instead alter their brain and the way it functions to make them a better person?
Recently, the commercially available Thync device made headlines for being able to alter our moods. Additionally, nearly a half million people already have implants in their heads, most to overcome deafness, but some to help with Alzheimer’s or epilepsy. So the technology to change behavior and alter the brain isn’t science fiction. The science, in some ways, is already here—and certainly poised to grow, especially with Obama’s $3 billion dollar BRAIN initiative, of which $70 million went t oDARPA, partially for cranial implant research.
Some people may complain that implants are too invasive and extreme. But similar outcomes—especially in altering criminal’s minds to better fit society’s goals—may be accomplished by genetic engineering, nanotechnology, or even super drugs. In fact, many criminals are already given powerful drugs, which make them quite different that they might be without them. After all, some people—including myself—believe much violent crime is a version of mental disease.