A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Is it possible to implant a microchip in somebody's brain to control their thoughts?

January 19, 1996

Dear Cecil:

I'm interested to know if electronic technology is available for controlling (a) a person's state of mind such as for brainwashing, making a person commit a crime, commit suicide, and so on; (b) a person's inner thoughts or voices by planting an electronic implant in a person's eyes or skull. If such a technology is available, would it be used only by state agencies or would private labs have access to it for their own research? Also I would like to know, if a person feels he or she was implanted how can the implants be detected and removed?

Cecil replies:

The editor who forwarded your question to me added the note "Watch out, Cecil. This Mary sounds like trouble." But I figure, who needs my help more than the nuts?

A surprisingly large number of people figure they've been implanted with a microchip that controls their thoughts and actions. Related conspiracy theories: they're irradiating my body with microwaves! They're reading my mind by remote control! Voices are coming out of my television set telling me to buy products for which I have no earthly need! Whoops, that isn't a conspiracy theory, that's reality. Sometimes these days it's hard to tell the difference.

This being the 90s, alleged implant victims don't just talk to themselves on the bus; they have their own Web pages. One of the best was run by the Freedom of Thought Foundation, an ad hoc committee that lends "aid and protection to survivors of mind control." (The URL I had for them no longer works, sorry to say. Coincidence?)   One committee member is Paul Krassner, editor of The Realist, the 60s-era satire sheet that has now resumed publication. (Address: Box 1230, Venice, CA 90294.) Krassner is a good guy — he sends me free copies, doesn't he? But he's also an indefatigable put-on artist, and his association with the FTF doesn't do much for its credibility. Then again, when your home page says stuff like "Hi! I'm Ed Light, one of many captives of the mind-control cabal's microwave antipersonnel projects. As I type this I'm being forcibly zapped," you're obviously not too concerned about what the outside world thinks.

Among the many delights FTF offers are two "MRI scans of psychotronic implants" provided by one Brian Bard. In the middle of somebody's skull, presumably Bard's, we see ... well, it looks like an IUD. Bard, however, says it's "a transducer relay designed to absorb electromagnetic radiation in one frequency range and retransmit that energy in another frequency range." Supposedly it's in the mastoid sinus.

Is it possible? I doubt it. The technology just isn't there yet. Neural implants of various kinds have become common, notably the cochlear implants used to restore some hearing in the deaf. But the sound quality of cochlear implants is mediocre at best, and they couldn't readily be used to transmit the voices some implant victims claim to hear. (One assumes implanting a mere radio would be too prosaic.) Equally important, today's neural implants still have to be connected to an external signal processor. If you wake up with unexplained wires trailing out of your body or find a little computer strapped to your waist, you would be right to be suspicious. Otherwise don't fret.

But who knows what wonders the future holds? Researchers have developed a rice-grain-size microchip designed to be implanted under the skin with a syringe. Zap it with radio-frequency energy, and it beams out a ten-digit ID number. Right now it's used to identify pets and farm animals, but technology paranoids foresee a day when they'll start sticking ID microchips into people.

Horrified? Worse things await. Soon they'll want to stick them into your car. A while back I spoke to a couple transportation experts who figured you could use remote-control microchips to implement "road pricing." As you drove around, sensors in the pavement would detect a microchip built into your vehicle. A central computer would tally your mileage and bill you annually for road usage, with maybe a surcharge tacked on if you traveled the most congested roads during rush hour. Sound crazy? A lot of things sound crazy. Next thing you know they're elected to Congress.

More craziness

Dear Cecil:

I was amused at your whimsical attitude toward mind control devices. I am not writing to tell you that I was taken to "AREA 51" for tests, nor was I implanted with what in some circles is referred to as the "DOMINATOR," but I am requesting more information on this Mary B. in Plano, Texas. By the way, the chips are implanted into humans through the nose and as far as cars, LOJACK is only the beginning, and how about Ameritech with its phone lines bugging your whole house while you think they are "protecting" you? Are these all not examples of the power authority watching you and I? I did find your work stimulating, although a bit short on available facts and figures, but then again, who reads this thing? People who have an open mind to conspiracy theory or Euro slut trash who are only interested in the here and now?

Cecil replies:

Well, at least now we know all the nuts aren't in Texas.

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A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
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A Straight Dope Classic by Cecil Adams
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