A recent survey by the Royal Society has urged the UK Government to launch a national investigation into neural interface technologies and their ethical implications.
Neural interface technologies are devices that blur the line between mind and machine. They are implanted in the body, or worn externally and used to record or stimulate brain activity in the brain.
Examples of available devices are cochlear implants, which convert sound into electrical signals sent directly to the patient’s brain to enhance hearing, as well as prosthetic arms and legs that are controlled solely by human thought.
The study investigated future uses of the technologies and found the following uses were all a possibility:
- The ability to send someone a ‘neural postcard’. This would allow someone to see what you could see, even if they were not there with you.
- People being able to communicate via accessing one another’s thoughts.
- The ability to download new skills into the brain
As part of the report, scientists asked the public for their views. The report found strong support for their use in allowing patients to recover from injury or medical conditions.
However, there was far less support for using such devices to enhance functions such as memory or physical strength in healthy individuals.
The risk of brain devices
The report highlighted certain risks associated with the development of brain devices. The first was the idea of thoughts or moods being accessed by big corporations, as well as the bigger question about whether these devices could essentially alter what it means to be ‘human’.
The report urges the UK Government to act now to ensure that our ethical safeguards are flexible enough for any future development. There are currently no internally implanted interfaces licensed outside of medicine, but the report suggests that this could soon be a reality.
It is, therefore, the responsibility of the UK Government and the public to help shape the development and future use of these technologies, rather than it being led by big corporations solely for profit.
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