Will Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) make us Telepathic?

By Faisal Khan | 20 September 2019

(Credit: Dreamstime)

Neural interfaces are being actively developed by companies as we speak. These BCIs powered by Artificial Intelligence can allow people to read others’ minds. Essentially the brain implants can make us telepathic. That was the conclusion drawn from a new report by the UK scientific organization, The Royal Society. The report that was reviewed by The Independent outlined the benefits of the technology while pointing towards the risks associated with it as well.

The report suggests that the biggest use of technology would be in the medical field, where it estimates that by 2040, neural interfaces will be an “established option” to treat diseases like Alzheimer’s. Other futuristic applications could include the virtual sense to taste, smell and see without physical sensation. The report also writes about the ability of such hardware to boost people’s memory, improve their vision and most importantly allow telepathic connection between two people.

Two companies that are actively developing the Brain-Computer Interfaces is Elon Musk’s Neuralink and Facebook.

Elon Musk’s company Neuralink has already announced the next phase in the development of its BCI – fine threads, which are thinner than the human hair will be implanted in a human brain to detect the activity of neurons. A robot, also developed by the company will be executing the procedure under the direction of a neurosurgeon.

Musk elaborated that a rat and a monkey are among 19 animals upon which these threads have been implanted for trial purposes with a success rate of 87%. Neuralink plans to start human trials in the second quarter of 2020 pending the FDA approval in the U.S. The full transcript of the presentation can be found here.

Although exciting to futurists, the technology comes with its own sets of risks and hurdles. Researchers are of the opinion that drilling holes in the brain is much riskier than external wearable devices. Also, the ambitious launch target might hit roadblocks, once the Food and Drug Administration gets involved. Musk has set out with a vision of allowing brains to communicate with machines and ultimately giving them the capacity to compete with Artificial Intelligence.

Facebook’s BCI program was originally announced in 2017 where a non-invasive wearable device would let people type by simply imagining themselves talking. The collaborative effort was funded by the social media giant and supported by a team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

These researchers have already been helping people with neurological damage to speak by detecting intended speech from brain activity. It’s two years later and the results of the research have just been published in Nature Communication. The process involves high-density electrocorticography (ECoG), implanting sensors on your brain to record neural activity.

Primarily, this futuristic technology will have important medical applications, especially using it to help people who have speaking disabilities, but FB is expecting to use the BCI for broader use – like typing, clicking through dialog boxes and a host of other Augmented and Virtual Reality applications. Facebook has pledged to govern this research by an Ethics Board to keep the credibility of the project.

Looking at the flip side of the technology, The Royal Society’s report calls on the government to launch a national investigation geared at this emerging tech to shape its development. Addressing ethical concerns like protecting the privacy of the individuals and preventing it to be used as a surveillance tool.

Being telepathic might have its advantages, but what happens if the brain implants take control of the decision processes. Would you still be human or become part-machine? The Cyborgs of the Science fiction series Star Trek might be upon us.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Faisal Khan is a prolific Canada-based tech blogger and influencer. He is the founder and editor of the Technicity publication which focuses on technical, scientific and financial knowledge sharing. Follow him on Twitter @fklivestolearn.

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