Who gives the thoughts! Or how others will react to neurocontrolled devices
We are seeing neurotechnology do some amazing stuff but it is precisely because of its amazing potential that some people are experiencing fear about what the future may hold. Change can be scary! However, on the other side of the ledger, there’s a lot of reassurance to be found in the strong and vibrant push we’re seeing from the sciences and the humanities to ensure that ethics is integrated at the ground floor of neurotechnological development.
A certain level of fear and trust is expected, but…
Humans have been building tools which enhance our capabilities since a really hairy guy rubbed a couple of sticks together and invented fire. Yet for all our natural tendency to use tools something about the idea of technology interfacing with our brains tends to make some people feel … to use the technical jargon … squicky.
But here’s the thing. We are developing technology that interfaces with our body already — and it is improving lives. Look at cochlear implants. These amazing devices consist of a surgical implant and a sound processor. They provide profoundly deaf people with a chance to hear.
Here’s another example: Neurogress is working to help amputees to use robotic prostheses with AI software that greatly enhances people’s ability to work through interaction via a brain-computer interface. These innovations are going a long way to generate acceptance and reinforce the positive impacts the technology can bring.
Ethics and inclusion have a big impact on acceptance
There’s also a push to move forward ethically. In 2016, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) convened a workshop on neurotechnology and ethics. 34 democracies with market economies working with each other, as well as with more than 70 non-member economies reinforced its commitment to mutual responsiveness: “A transparent, interactive process by which societal actors and innovators become mutually responsive to each other.” Technology is a lot less scary when the end users get a say in where we go and how we get there.
It’s reassuring that the neurotechnology industry acknowledges and embraces the advantages of integrating these reactions and concerns “upstream”. In fact, the general consensus is that an ethical approach isn’t just right in a moral sense. It also makes business sense. To quote the conference findings, “new forms of governance arrangements may accelerate, rather than hinder, innovation. This is because potential problems are clarified ahead of time, leaving path- ways open for research and development.”
AI will make the transition easier
There’s another factor in favor of embracing change. Artificial intelligence will be utilized to make the use of neurotechnology radically easier.Neurogress is developing software which harnesses AI to actively learn our brain signals as we develop the skills to neurocontrol devices.
It’s a little dense, but consider this nugget of amazing: Using their software, “a person is asked to imagine the desired motions in mind many times, and the algorithmic image recognition systems find a match. … in the electrical activity of his / her brain. In the future, the algorithms reliably recognize signs of a person’s intention to adjust the movement, this time through free expression of the person’s intentions.”
So as we embrace this amazing new tool, we won’t just be learning to control the technology. It will be learning to respond to us.
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