Mind-reading machines – scientifically referred to as Brain-Computer Interfaces – are almost a reality. Should you be worried?
By Michael Megarit
Will Brain-Computer Interfaces Respect Your Privacy of Thought?
For now, the only way to share your thoughts with others is to speak, mime, or write.
In a few years, this will change radically.
Brain Computer Interfaces (BCIs) are devices that pick up thoughts directly from our neurons and translate them into words. This opens the possibility of sharing our thoughts and feelings directly from our minds without speaking or writing.
Initially, BCIs will be used to treat patients with mental handicaps such as paralysis. The devices will decode their brain signals and enable them to speak their thoughts without having to move. However, the long-term goal is to give people the ability to control digital devices through thoughts.
In order to accomplish this ambitious objective, mind-reading devices will require access to your brain data, which raises a number of ethical concerns:
- Who regulates a BCI’s access to your brain?
- Should mental privacy be considered a basic human right?
- Where does your self end and the machine begin?
BCI technology is still under development and nobody knows exactly how they will be used.
However, its impacts will be far-reaching and potentially revolutionary.
Thus it’s important to analyze the potential impacts it will have on business and society.
Brain-Computer Interfaces Will Radically Enhance Human Ability
It’s important to note that BCIs offer practical applications that will greatly benefit mankind.
First of all, BCIs will improve the quality of life of the tens of millions of people suffering from paralysis and other mental and physical handicaps. Once the technology becomes mainstream, tens of millions of people around the world will be able to translate their thoughts into words. From this point of view, BCIs are life-changing technology.
Second of all, BCIs will revolutionize human communication. If we can read other peoples’ minds and communicate with them through thought alone, communication will be instant and speaking and writing become de facto obsolete. In fact, only non-BCI integrated people will communicate through such ‘archaic’ methods. BCI-connected people will exchange thoughts and ideas telepathically.
Finally, it’s beyond doubt that BCIs will radically enhance human abilities. Elon Musk’s AI company Neurolink is developing BCI technology to “achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence” that will allow humans to “merge with AI” and keep up with their ever-advancing capabilities. If humans don’t embrace this form of technology, they will be become redundant, he claims.
Indeed, the automation of jobs and work processes is on the rise and will destroy millions of jobs.
From that point of view, Musk’s argument makes sense and BCIs clearly offer plenty of interesting applications that have the potential to considerably improve the quality of human life.
That being said, there are several ethical concerns that need to be addressed.
Is No Privacy the Future of Privacy?
The main criticism aimed at BCIs will be similar to the ones aimed at the internet and social media: the respect of individual privacy.
These days, the worst thing that can happen is getting your identity stolen and your bank information hacked. However, BCIs will present an entirely new challenge: access to your emotions and intimate thoughts. Just how far will this technology be allowed to invade your mental privacy?
If someone can read your mind, they can invade, analyze and share your innermost thoughts and feelings without your explicit consent. Clearly, unscrupulous people may exploit this to dominate, extort, and blackmail others.
Proponents of BCIs claim that security features will be integrated to prevent the technology from accessing certain layers of your brain. What’s more, once the technology is widely used, people may naturally develop their own defense mechanisms and learn how to mask their true thoughts when they are being scrutinized by such technology.
Brain-Computer Interfaces Will Generate Even Greater Inequality
In the civilian world, access to BCIs will increase existing economic and social inequalities.
As with most cutting-edge technology, the initial cost of access will be high. This means that it may be reserved for wealthy, privileged elites.
If that’s the case, plenty of social justice issues will emerge.
If BCIs enable you to read minds, learn faster and have better memories, is it fair that BCI-equipped persons should compete for the same job opportunities as non-BCI equipped persons? Will this facilitate the rise to power of the BCI-equipped over the non BCI-equipped? Would the BCI-equipped be tempted to limit access to BCIs to maintain and strengthen their domination?
The risk is that BCIs will create a new form of technological inequality that will segregate humanity into two groups: the BCI-enhanced and the non-BCI enhanced.
BCIs Will Pit Employers Against Employees
In the business world, BCIs will present challenges that risk deepening the divide between employers and employees.
At present, work contracts regulate how physical and intellectual property is treated when someone works for and leaves a company. But what happens when the employee with a mind-reading brain implant enters and leaves a company? Does the employer ask the employee to deactivate the chip or reset its memory?
Ultimately, who owns the chip and the data it contains? Will employees read their employers’ minds during salary negotiations? Will employers read employees’ minds to find out how much time they’re wasting on non-productive activities and how sincere they are during performance reviews and team meetings?
Who will regulate these scenarios?
BCIs Create Confusion Between Self And Machine
The final ethical concern we will mention is the confusion between human and machine.
If you’re connected to an AI device that enhances your cognitive abilities, who is really making decisions? Is it you or the machine? Where does your free will and independent thought end and the computer’s assistance begin?
Furthermore, the question of personal responsibility comes into question. If AI is influencing your thoughts and your actions, are you responsible for their consequences?
Ultimately, BCIs will radically enhance the abilities of its users and redefine our notion of what it means to be “human”.
About the Author
Michael Megarit is the founder and managing partner of Cebron Group. With over 25 years of domestic and international corporate finance experience, he has provided M&A and capital advisory to high-growth technology companies seeking investments and buyers.