Scientists Warn of “Bleak Cyborg Future” From Brain-Computer Interfaces

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Researchers caution of the prospective social, ethical, and legal effects of innovations connecting greatly with human brains.

Surpassing the biological constraints of the brain and utilizing one’s mind to engage with and control external electronic gadgets might seem like the far-off cyborg future, however it might come faster than we believe.

Researchers from Imperial College London carried out an evaluation of contemporary industrial brain-computer user interface (BCI) gadgets, and they go over the main technological constraints and humanitarian issues of these gadgets in APL Bioengineering, from AIP Publishing.

The most appealing approach to accomplish real-world BCI applications is through electroencephalography (EEG), a technique of keeping track of the brain noninvasively through its electrical activity. EEG-based BCIs, or eBCIs, will need a variety of technological advances prior to prevalent usage, however more significantly, they will raise a range of social, ethical, and legal issues.

eBCI Operation Schematic

A schematic shows the actions needed for eBCI operation. EEG sensing units get electrical signals from the brain, which are processed and outputted to manage external gadgets. Credit: Portillo-Lara et al.

Though it is challenging to comprehend precisely what a user experiences when running an external gadget with an eBCI, a couple of things are specific. For one, eBCIs can interact both methods. This enables an individual to manage electronic devices, which is especially helpful for medical clients that require assistance managing wheelchairs, for instance, however likewise possibly alters the method the brain functions.

“For some of these patients, these devices become such an integrated part of themselves that they refuse to have them removed at the end of the clinical trial,” stated Rylie Green, among the authors. “It has become increasingly evident that neurotechnologies have the potential to profoundly shape our own human experience and sense of self.”

Aside from these possibly bleak psychological and physiological adverse effects, copyright issues are likewise a concern and might permit personal business that establish eBCI innovations to own users’ neural information.

“This is particularly worrisome, since neural data is often considered to be the most intimate and private information that could be associated with any given user,” stated Roberto Portillo-Lara, another author. “This is mainly because, apart from its diagnostic value, EEG data could be used to infer emotional and cognitive states, which would provide unparalleled insight into user intentions, preferences, and emotions.”

As the accessibility of these platforms increases previous medical treatment, variations in access to these innovations might intensify existing social inequalities. For example, eBCIs can be utilized for cognitive improvement and trigger severe imbalances in scholastic or expert successes and instructional improvements.

“This bleak panorama brings forth an interesting dilemma about the role of policymakers in BCI commercialization,” Green stated. “Should regulatory bodies intervene to prevent misuse and unequal access to neurotech? Should society follow instead the path taken by previous innovations, such as the internet or the smartphone, which originally targeted niche markets but are now commercialized on a global scale?”

She contacts international policymakers, neuroscientists, producers, and prospective users of these innovations to start having these discussions early and work together to produce responses to these challenging ethical concerns.

“Despite the potential risks, the ability to integrate the sophistication of the human mind with the capabilities of modern technology constitutes an unprecedented scientific achievement, which is beginning to challenge our own preconceptions of what it is to be human,” Green stated.

Reference: “Mind the gap: State-of-the-art technologies and applications for EEG-based brain-computer interfaces” by Roberto Portillo-Lara, Bogachan Tahirbegi, Christopher A.R. Chapman, Josef A. Goding and Rylie A. Green, 20 July 2021, APL Bioengineering.
DOI: 10.1063/5.0047237

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