New ‘brain-computer interface’ technology to be explored

13 September 2019

Royal Society calls on government to launch an urgent inquiry into the new ‘neural revolution.’

Tiffany Hionas

The Royal Society have urged the government to carry out an investigation into neural interface technologies. This entails looking into the ethical risks and ensuring regulations are in place if the UK were to become a global leader in this market.

The development of neural interface software means humans will be allowed to merge with artificial intelligence to offer medical aid, brain disease treatments, and treatments for mental health conditions.

To enable this software, electrodes need to be inserted into the human brains, and electronic implants will enable communication with the brain and other parts of the nervous system. Scientists predict that by 2040, implants will help to alleviate symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases, treat depression and help the paralysed to walk. 

As well as this, this neural technology will revolutionise the way people communicate, allowing people to converse without the physical action of speaking. Instead, conversations will happen through access to each other’s thoughts; scientists claim this will enable closer collaboration and create deeper connections amongst humans.

However, some researchers warn that such technology will be accessing people’s most intimate data. According to Sarah Chan at the University of Edinburgh, co-author on the report, ‘as our experience with social media has shown, we do need to think ahead about who will control this data and what it might be used for, to guard against possible harmful uses.'

'If recent experience has shown us anything, it’s that individual consent and opting in or out is not enough to protect either individuals or society more widely.’

The Royal Society feel the government should address questions regarding the collection of data; should neural interfaces be our next form of communication, what data would be collected and how is it kept safe, are questions to be addressed and investigated to ensure ethical safety is put into action. 

Dr Tim Constandinou, director of the Next Generation Neural Interfaces (NGNI) Lab at Imperial College London feel that carrying out an investigation is beneficial, stating that ‘in this way we can guarantee these emerging technologies are implemented safely and for the benefit of humanity.’

Related Links:

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Machine Learning: Are Machines Better than Humans?

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