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Connected Brains: Brain-Computer Interface (BCI)

Brain interface connection

Over the last 30 years, technology has evolved significantly, mainly due to the widespread use of the internet and analog to digital evolution. This evolution drove many technological advances in BioTechnology, Robotics, and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

This advance has brought about opportunities to see things differently and to propose solutions to complex problems, many of which have been without a solution until now. On the other hand, as with all innovation processes, our beliefs and knowledge are being continually challenged, uncovering mysteries that may take a lot of time to decipher and may present new ethical, human, privacy and security conflicts that should be considered. In this context, we can start talking about brain-computer interfaces (BCI).

What is a Brain-Computer Interface (BCI)?

BCI is used internally or externally to read and process brain activity and eventually communicate information back to the brain. With the use of AI, it can potentially amplify human intelligence.

While on one hand, this is incredible, on the other hand, we need to ask ourselves, are we in a position to manage this level of power?

BCI, like Elon Musk’s Neuralink, requires surgery to be implanted. It is essentially a network of tiny electrodes linked to the brain to measure neuron activity. The quality of the data capture is better, and the device can be implanted in various brain regions. Positive effects of this technology can be seen in treating spinal cord injuries, controlling prosthetic limbs, and treating depression.

Other BCIs that don’t require surgery are dependent on noisier signals from electroencephalogram (EEG) and infrared devices worn on the head.

What is Neuralink?

Neuralink CEO – Elon Musk has been making the news lately with his pig experiment, demonstrating that the implanted brain device can read and write information to pigs’ brains. Musk has promised that Neuralink would start human trials by the end of 2020 with the aim of treating people who have severe neurological disorders.

Some interesting uses within the next 10 years are that people could become telepathic to some degree as more sophisticated neural interfaces emerge and allow us to connect to computers – or each other. The company envisions this technology will allow us to communicate wirelessly with the world. It would enable us to share our thoughts, fears, hopes, and anxieties without demeaning ourselves with written or spoken language.

One consequence of this is that it would allow us to be connected to the internet at the biological level. But it’s who would be connecting back with us, how, where, why, and when that are the real questions.

Addressing the BCI Ecosystem

  • Ethics: Issues based on sensors surgically implanted in the brain

    Neuralink would be elective surgery on healthy people for non-medical purposes. Most people are unlikely to want to have brain surgery unless vital for their health. What framework and regulations need to be put in place to prevent the government or employers requiring people to utilize BCI?

  • Regulation & Control: Issues around understanding how and in what ways BCI is being used

    As BCI tools, such as, Neuralink are essentially a communications system, regulation and control are very important. A group of neurologists have requested that a public registry of implanted neurological devices be kept.

  • Security: Issues related to cybersecurity

    Smart means exploitable. Once you connect something to something else you've just opened up a means for it to be compromised. Cybersecurity will be integral to creating integrity in the BCI ecosystem.

Internet as the Brain

Another interesting and complementary perspective is outlined by Jeff Stibel in his book, Wired for Thought – How the brain is shaping the future of the Internet. He describes that in this age of hypercompetition, the Internet constitutes a powerful tool for inventing radical new business models that will leave your rivals scrambling. But as a brain scientist and entrepreneur, he explains you have to understand its true nature. The Internet is more than just a series of interconnected computer networks: it’s the first real replication of the human brain outside the human body.

Stibel shows how exceptional companies are using their understanding of the Internet’s brainlike powers to create competitive advantages-such as building more effective Web sites, predicting consumer behavior, leveraging social media, and creating a collective consciousness. The Internet, Stibel argues, is a replication of the brain—the hardware being millions of computers connected like neurons to one another, and the software being the World Wide Web and the surrounding infrastructure a rich semantic network.

The Human View - Neuroscience

Facundo Manes, Argentine Neurologist, states “although much progress has been made in recent years, the brain remains a mysterious, complex organ, full of secrets to unravel.” The brain is fascinating because it is the only organ that tries to explain itself. From breathing to reading this article or thinking about the deepest philosophical questions, it functions as the most complex and enigmatic structure in the universe. Furthermore, new knowledge raises new questions. So we can ask ourselves if we can ever fully understand the brain’s enigmas completely.

With new technologies, we will not need to use the brain and we can keep it in a drawer. Is this true?

No, not at all. No machine can replace our brains. Our mind is much more than an information processor. Let’s think about our social brain’s skills, how to understand the mind of another human being, feel their pain, and respond to it. Empathy, altruism, and cooperation are capabilities beyond any machine and fundamental to our lives.

Human beings are innately social. Machines are not going to replace us. We will continue to need each brain to continue functioning with the genius that characterizes it and leave the drawer to store clothes or other obsolete devices.

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