Posted on Sep 10, 2019, 4 p.m.
Brain computer interfaces may soon be used to help humans essentially communicate telepathically according to a new report about neural implant technology by the Royal Society reviewed in The Independent.
Some of the more exciting prospects of brain computer interfaces using artificial intelligence were covered in the report, but it also warned that hooking up human brains to computer could compromise individual privacy.
“Not only thoughts, but sensory experiences, could be communicated from brain to brain,” the report reads. “Someone on holiday could beam a ‘neural postcard’ of what they are seeing, hearing or tasting into the mind of a friend back home.”
The Royal Society suggests that there should be a government probe into the technology to ensure that such neural implants, if to be used in the future, are of benefit to people and society, otherwise companies such as Facebook and Neuralink that are already working on their own systems will be able to dictate how this technology is used on their own terms; ethical concerns should be dealt with now such as protecting privacy, and preventing it from being used as a surveillance tool.
Additionally, many questions need to be addressed surrounding this technology as it could affect what it means to be human, can an implant take control over certain decision processes, and if so is that person still themselves or are they part machine?
“They could bring huge economic benefits to the UK and transform sectors like the NHS, public health and social care,” Imperial College London engineer and report co-chair Christofer Toumazou told The Independent. “But if developments are dictated by a handful of companies then less commercial applications could be side-lined. That is why we are calling on the government to launch a national investigation.”
FB and Elon Musk estimate their neural interfaces will be an established option by 2040. Futuristic applications are expected to allow people to virtually smell, taste and see without the physical experience, boost memory, improve vision, and allow thoughts to be transmitted from person to person. Among the more advanced hopes are to treat diseases like Alzheimer’s disease.
“People could become telepathic to some degree, able to converse not only without speaking but without words – through access to each other’s thoughts at a conceptual level. This could enable unprecedented collaboration with colleagues and deeper conversations with friends,” the report states.
Elon Musk’s Neuralink announced implantable threads that links a human brain directly to a computer aimed to help paraplegics control computers to improve communication skills to "ultimately achieve a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence".
Musk has warned about the dangers of advanced AI in the past, suggesting that in the future humans could fall so far behind machines we will be viewed in the way we view pets now. "I think one of the solutions that seems maybe the best is to add an AI layer." This neural lace technology is being developed at Neuralink and is planning to begin clinical trials next year.
Facebook describes a new cyborg era as "the next great wave in human-oriented computing" and is currently working on a headset which may be the first step to telepathic communication described in a paper published in Nature Communications discussing the headset transferring a person’s thoughts directly to a computer screen, currently it can only decode a small number of words but it is under development.
"Imagine a world where all the knowledge, fun, and utility of today's smartphones were instantly accessible and hands-free. A decade from now, the ability to type directly from our brains may be accepted as a given. Not long ago, it sounded like science fiction. Now, it feels within plausible reach." Facebook wrote in a blog post at the time.
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