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When Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep

11/02/2021
Source: Analytics India Magazine

  • “Now we’re entering a new era, in which rather than using tools, the tools might be using us.” – Yuval Noah Harari
Source: Analytics India Magazine
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Kashyap RaibagiKASHYAP RAIBAGI
Kashyap currently works as a Tech Journalist at Analytics India…

Recently, Elon Musk’s startup, Neuralink, has wired up a monkey to play video games by planting a computer chip in its skull. Neuralink is trying to develop an implementable computer-brain interface to increase information flow rate from the human brain to a machine. The San Francisco- based neurotechnology firm comprises a team of around 100 people.

In the light of recent developments, we look at some of the ethical implications of introducing such devices in the human brain.

“It is very likely, within a century or two, Homo sapiens, as we have known it for thousands of years, will disappear”

Yuval Noah Harari, Philosopher and Best-selling Author of ‘Sapiens’ and ‘Homo Deus’

Free Will

According to Musk, humans are already Cyborgs since they have a tertiary digital layer in the form of phones, computers, and applications. While this might not be as sophisticated as putting chips in our brains, technology holds a lot of power over us.

In the future, if cutting-edge tech hardware makes its way into human brains, the machines might take over our decision-making faculties. Meaning, the prosthetic makers can program us(ers) to further their agenda. Human agency and free will are at stake, when the Orwellian overlords rule the roost. The deep state and deep tech mix well. Such overarching technology could double as a surveillance system — Imagine living under the constant gaze of Panopticon.


On the other hand, the privileged humans will harness advanced algorithms to become a super race of sorts- capable of interplanetary travel (Refer: Blue Origin, SpaceX), and probably a shot at immortality (Refer: Calico, Sierra Sciences). But, there is always a catch. Humans tend to overestimate the power of algorithms. So delegating machines to do our thinking might turn out deleterious to our gene pool at large.

“Once you dress something up as an algorithm or as a bit of artificial intelligence it can take on this air of authority that makes it really hard to argue with.”

Hannah Fry, UCL Mathematician and Author of Hello World.

Further, the chasm of inequality will widen in a capitalist setting since such technologies can be used to do social engineering, leading to a transnational Big Tech oligarchy. 

Thought Police

Mass surveillance infringes on our fundamental right of freedom of speech, which, in turn, threatens democracy. At this point, AI-based surveillance technologies are restricted to facial or voice recognition systems or other forms of biometric identification. But the snafus from over-policing and misidentification while using the tech are in plenty.

In the future, if we are able to install chips to track the emotions of every citizen, the repercussions will be catastrophic. The health of body politic will decline dramatically with political parties leveraging tech to implement their autocratic ideologies. As things stand, such technology could become a reality in a not too distant future.

Space and Time

The brain retrofitting could potentially change the way we understand space or time. In the past, experiments have been done to control a monkey’s limbs. Future technologies could be used for fighting wars, where a person could be sitting in a US lab while his digital twin is engaged in combat in Afghanistan.

“I feel like there’s a very strong, profound distinction between just using technology and integrating technology”SEE ALSO

Source: Analytics India Magazine
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

Mark O’Connell, Journalist and Author of the book To Be a Machine.

Combining AI with biotechnology, humans could also make a bid for cheating death. Technology has played a huge role in increasing our average life expectancy. However, health and death remain a very technical (medical) problem, more than a philosophical one.

Upside

While technologies like the ones Neuralink wants to develop can ‘improve’ or alter human cognition through intelligent chips, it can also help patients with disabilities or health conditions (Neuroprosthetics). People with motor disabilities, neurological damages or quadriplegics can reclaim normal life with the aid of such technologies.

For example, Kernel, a Silicon Valley-based startup, is developing computerised brain implants to help patients with epilepsy, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer. The company has already developed magnetometers to track brain signals using head-mounted devices.

Going Forward

“Any technology humanity has created starting with fire is a double-edged sword. So it can bring improvements to life, to work, and to society, but it can bring perils, and AI has these perils.”

Fei-Fei Li, Sequoia Professor Computer Science Department at Stanford University

Are you willing to give up your free will? Should human implants be regulated? What type of disclosures should be given? Should one be able to experiment with human body chip implants with out authorization or knowledge of the patient? Should human body implants including brain implants be elective?

Kashyap RaibagiKASHYAP RAIBAGI
Kashyap currently works as a Tech Journalist at Analytics India Magazine (AIM). Reach out at kashyap.raibagi@analyticsindiamag.com

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