Cyberpunk 20 **? Researchers warn of a ‘dark’ future with companies with private thoughts and a world divided between cyborg and human

Scientists at Imperial College London have warned of a “dark panorama” regarding the commercial use of brain-computer interfaces. If unregulated, they say, the technology could cause companies to harvest our deepest thoughts.

Several large tech companies, including Facebook and Microsoft, and tech investors like Elon Musk have funded projects exploring the use of brain-computer interface (BCI) devices to map neural links. US government agencies are also studying the applications of the technology.

In a new study published in the journal APL Bioengineering, researchers at the university reviewed the state of BCI research. They raised red flags over the potential commercial exploitation of our innermost thoughts and feelings and warned of a divided world along the access lines to BCI technology.

Study co-author Roberto Portillo-Lara described the possibility for legal persons to access BCI readings as “Particularly disturbing” since “Neural data is often considered the most intimate and private information that can be associated with a given user. “

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The most likely approach for real-world BCI applications is electroencephalography (EEG), a relatively inexpensive and non-invasive method of monitoring the electrical activity of the brain. Hospitals use it – through a headgear with electrodes attached to the scalp – to diagnose epilepsy and other disorders.

Researchers claim that EEG-based BCI systems (eBCI) “transform in depth” industries like healthcare, entertainment, safety, education and marketing in “close future.”

However, Portillo-Lara warned that the EEG data could also give companies “Unparalleled perspective” in that of a person “Intentions, preferences and emotions”.

A recent example of a BCI business is a business funded by Facebook “Speech neuroprosthesis” project that used surgically implanted electrodes on the surface of a participant’s brain to create computer models for “Speech detection” and the use of words.

In one blog post Earlier this month, the company said the project had enabled a man who could not speak after suffering a series of strokes 16 years ago to communicate again. He did this by converting his attempts to speak into words on a screen.

However, the project was still far from that of the tech giant. stated goal of a system that “can type 100 words per minute straight from your brain.” Unsurprisingly, Facebook said it would stop funding the project to focus on a product with better short-term sales potential – a virtual reality wrist controller that reads muscle signals sent from the wearer’s brain to the arm.

Last year, Musk’s BCI tech start-up Neuralink announced that it had implanted a chip in a pig’s brain to study its neural pathways – with the possible aim of building “Fitbit in your skull” human implants that would share memories and Tesla cars to be summoned telepathically.

Meanwhile, the US Army’s research arm DARPA would develop BCI technology with the intention of creating supersoldiers who can control “swarms of drones, operating at the speed of thought.” In 2017, the agency awarded contracts to better understand how brain interface technology works and potentially build a device capable of communicating with up to a million neurons at a time.

This has to do with what researchers warn could lead to a world divided between the augmented and the natural. Study co-author Rylie Green said policymakers and regulators need to tackle the “dilemma” commercialization of BCI to avoid this “Dark panning”.

The study authors said there were lessons to be learned from the commercialization and global impact of innovations like the internet and smartphones. These examples have shown that “strict” laws must be put in place to ensure that applications of BCI technology are ethical and secure.

In addition, they recommended that the technology be shared and easily accessible to avoid “Current socio-economic inequalities” to get worse.

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About Johanna Gooding

Johanna Gooding

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