Bio-engineers pessimistic about the future of brain-machine interfaces

While artificial intelligence is often of concern to the general public, brain-machine interfaces (or BCIs) are not disregarded. In particular, some scientists think that this kind of technology can create a dangerous dependence on the human brain. However, some companies could exploit it in the context of neural marketing.

ICMs: an evolving technology

Brain-machine interfaces are: direct link systems between a brain and a computer. They allow a person to perform tasks without the action of peripheral nerves and muscles. However, if the concept dates back to the early 1970s, the first human research appeared in the 1990s. several companies are working on ICMssuch as Facebook with its R&D company Building 8 or Neuralink, founded by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

A few years ago, Neuralink said it initially wanted find medical use at ICMs. it would be, for example, the restoration of sight for the blind and hearing for the deaf. However, Facebook and other giants like Microsoft want to model human thoughts as part of a connection with a virtual reality system.

However, as evidenced by the publication of an article on APL Bioengineering, a support of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) on July 20, 2021, bioengineers from Imperial College London (UK) are concerned about this technology. Indeed, these authors have rather dark scenario for the future.

brain machine interface
Diagram of a direct neural interface.
Credits: Balougador/Wikipedia

good and bad

British bioengineers say ICMs will allow companies to exploit people’s minds for money. In this sense, the authors called the concept of “marketing neuronal”. In addition, certain applications would be particularly dangerous. “If a chip assigns you a new identity, addiction to brain technologies could rival that of opioids”, we can read in the document. This addiction should not be taken lightly. The researchers cite cases of patients whose trials came to a rather surprising ending. Several volunteers refused to have their ICM devices removed because they were part of themselves.

The researchers called the concept of “proprioception” (kinesthesia), a deep sensitivity often referred to as the “sixth sense.” It is simply the conscious or unconscious perception of the position of the various parts of the body. In the absence of this property, the human brain is cannot recognize the influence of an external device on it’s own. Autonomy can then be compromised. More specifically, the ICM would prove capable of altering people’s character traits and thus undermining their personal identity.

Nevertheless, the authors admit that ICMs have positive aspects, especially in the area of ​​health. The people with severe disabilities will be able to operate prosthetics, move a wheelchair, use a computer and why not use home automation to manage the appliances in their home. In companies, ICMs could make it possible to: detect worker fatigue prevent work accidents. It can also help monitor potentially overworked students.