The risks of the brain-computer interface


Los riesgos de la interfaz cerebro-ordenador

Although it rarely makes headlines, advances in the brain-computer interface are probably one of the most exciting science and technology challenges we are experiencing today. And it is that although we are still in a very early phase of research, the evolutionary potential that has the possibility of establishing a direct connection between the brain and a computer (or other device) is practically unimaginable.

At the moment, the experiments with the brain-computer interface that we have known have always been in the outgoing direction, that is, sensors have taken signals from the brain, that have then been transferred to a system capable of interpreting them. And only in this sense are possible sensational uses already emerging, such as allowing communication to people who, due to illnesses, accidents or any other reason, suffer from limitations in this regard. From a speech synthesis device to a vehicle controllable by this system, the possibilities of the brain-computer interface are exciting.

However, these sensational possibilities of the brain-computer interface can be overshadowed if, at any moment, they are used in a way different from the one initially planned. And as we can read on The Register, researchers from Imperial College London have sounded the alarm about what they consider a «bleak outlook« in relation to this technology, and the possible negative uses that it could have in the future.

On the one hand, they warn of a risk that is probably the first that comes to everyone’s head: the use of data obtained through the brain-robot interface for commercial purposes. At the moment this is very, very far, but when these devices finally reach the market, all the measures, both technological and legal, should have already been established to prevent and prosecute this type of unauthorized use, and that would represent a terrible violation of the law. Privacy. And we can control what we say and what we write, but we don’t have as much control over what we think.

Another risk they let you know about is that they serve to create a social divide between those who can count on these types of devices and those who cannot. This is a debate that has also been established since the possibilities of genetic editing of embryos began to be considered, something that was very well reflected in the film Gattaca. “Enhanced” humans, whether by gene editing, brain-computer interface, or any other means, give rise to deep reflection and passionate debate.

And there is still a third element that is mentioned, and it is the way in which devices based on the brain-computer interface can change people’s lives so much that at some point they no longer feel capable to resume their lives without these elements. This has already been the case in trial participants who, at the end of the trials, have refused to be withdrawn after the tests. This is certainly understandable, but it also raises a dependency problem that should be considered.

Although it has finally reduced its participation in this research, at the time Facebook funded a project aimed at interpreting brain signals to convert the “speech” of the brain into written text. And this is just one example, other companies such as Neuralink, which precisely also works on the design of the brain-computer interface, raise the need to establish the necessary framework so that the possibilities of the brain-computer interface are not clouded by its misuse, weighing down what could be one of the most important advances of our time.


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