You know how you always dreamed of having some sort of superpower, like flying or flashing laser beams from your eyes or … telepathy?
Be careful what you wish for. Technology may actually go that far, as a new report by the Royal Society warns. Getting hooked up to a neural network like Elon Musks’s Neuralink could put you in mental communication with everyone else whose brain is wired. While neural networks that let people read each other’s minds sound like something that only used to be fiction, in some foreseeable actualities, scientists fear that it might be sci-fi gone too far.
So let’s look at the positives first. Neuralink and other neural interfaces may really be the answer to treating diseases like Alzheimer’s by 2040, which is a much closer future than it may seem. The Royal Society acknowledges that “these technologies could transform medicine and fundamentally change how we interact with technology and each other.” Fast-forward time and brain implants could actually give you the virtual experience of smelling, tasting, and seeing things without ever getting plane tickets to Paris or putting a bite of cake near your mouth. You could also get a memory boost, correct your vision — and read minds.
“People could become telepathic to some degree, able to converse not only without speaking but without words — through access to each other’s thoughts at a conceptual level,” the report reads. “This could enable unprecedented collaboration with colleagues and deeper conversations with friends.”
You could even share sensory experiences. If you’re the one in Paris, you could mentally beam back the experience of everything you see, hear, smell, touch, and taste back to friends at home.
Sounds like PG-rated science fiction at worst, but wait. Tech like this comes with heavy ethical concerns. Emma Newman portrayed a frightening scenario involving neural networks in her visionary book Before Mars, which revolves around a society where brain chips are mandated and your boss, and even the government, have access to everything you are thinking. Not to mention control over everything you do. There is no such thing as privacy. Those who refuse to get the chips implanted are cast out and end up living on the fringe of society.
Besides potentially being a 24-7 reality show for the overlords, we also face the question of whether we could end up evolving into cyborgs. Say our species ends up living in a world like Newman's, where businesses and government entities have enough power to switch our decisions on and off. If chips like this take over certain decision processes we are normally free to make on our own, are we going to be turning ourselves into the Borg (as seen in the above image from IDW's comic series Star Trek: Boldly Go)?
“Neural and brain-computer interfaces may challenge the very essence of what it is to be human,” notes the report. “Working out how, and even if we want to use them requires an open and inclusive debate involving many voices and all sectors of society. The Royal Society proposes the public are given a clear voice in shaping how this technology is used and regulated over the coming years.”
While Neuralink will begin clinical trials to treat Alzheimer’s and dementia next year, maybe we shouldn't go further than medical use? Maybe we should? Just watch out if someone with a metal thing implanted in their head tells you their name is Seven of Nine.
(via The Royal Society)