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Exploring the Ethical Challenges of Brain-Computer Interface Technology

Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) are no longer a matter of science fiction. Technology is already available to some patients to treat conditions such as epilepsy and blindness. Soon, projects like Elon Musk’s Neuralink will make BCIs available to a wide consumer audience.

However, with the widespread adoption of the technology there are serious concerns about the safety and behavior of brain-computer interfaces.

The potential for brain damage, technology dependence and social stigma have experts of all classes discussing the damage that BCI technology can cause.

The current state of BCI technology

Brain -computer interfaces – also called brain -machine interfaces – include any technology that creates a real -time and direct connection between a user’s brain and a computer. BCIs can be invasive or non-invasive.

An invasive BCI will likely require surgery to implant electrodes under the scalp, which will allow the computer to communicate with the brain. Some BCIs can directly embed electrodes in the brain.

Real -world examples of BCI include some types of bionic eyes or devices that use BCI technology. provide a basic vision of people with acquired blindness.

By stimulating the parts of the brain responsible for processing vision, it is possible to stream video information captured by a pair of glasses to the patient’s brain, allowing them to see patches of light. and darkness. These bionic eyes cannot completely restore a person’s vision, but the visibility they provide is often enough to give some extra autonomy to people with non-congenital blindness.

Other examples of BCI include implants that can predict seizures and awaken the brain to prevent them, as well as implants to be able to limited restoration of mobility in people with paralysis.

Soon, BCIs that enable individuals to perform tasks with only a mind will be available to consumers. The most famous BCI project currently in the works is probably Elon Musk’s Neuralink, a implant aimed at enabling users to type, use tools and control computers by thinking.

Facebook scientists are reportedly working on a similar project-a headset that can alter a user’s brain activity in text, allowing hands-free typing.

The rapid adoption of data processing technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) – already used by 70% of companies worldwide – helping to accelerate the development of BCI. By using AI to track patterns of brain signals in a user, researchers and developers create more effective BCIs and expanding technology applications.

Injury, stigma and old age – the behavior of BCIs

With invasive surgery and implants often comes the risk of injury or complications such as infection or glial scarring, which can prevent the transformation of neurons.

Animal welfare activists recently condemned Neuralink after data received by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine from UC Davis suggested that several monkeys died during Neuralink’s animal trials. Human trials are on track to begin by the end of 2022, but experts are concerned that injuries and deaths during animal trials may suggest that the technology is not ready for human experimentation.

The more advanced the BCI implant, the more connections to the brain electrode it is likely to have. As a result, better implants can be more complicated to install and remove through surgery.

There are also concerns about the psychological impact that BCI implants can have. A recent study was examined the use of invasive implants providing advanced warning of seizures in six patients with epilepsy.

According to the study authors, some patients were well adapted to BCI, while others were not – with one patient experiencing “feelings of postoperative self -estrangement.” They suggest that better preparedness protocols specific to BCI implants can prevent similar damage in the future.

The dangers of old BCI implants

BCI users are likely to need ongoing and long -term support – including repairs and upgrades – from the company that created their BCI. But what happens to a BCI user if a manufacturer goes out of business?

In 2019, Second Sight began removing Argus II, a retinal prosthesis that gives users limited vision restoration. For months, users knew what the company would do no longer offers upgrades and repairs – if their prosthesis fails, it will fail for good.

If not in place, an unusable prosthesis has the potential to cause serious injury and complications to its user. It can also prevent or interfere with MRIs. However, the surgery required to remove the device is expensive and invasive, which is beyond the reach of many Argus II users.

As BCIs become more common, technology adopters may need to weigh the risk that their implant will eventually become obsolete or that its manufacturer will go out of business, leaving them in trouble.

Legal frameworks and programs that support owners of older BCIs can help reduce this risk, but for now, the potential damages of aging will almost all fall to users.

The potential and danger of BCIs

Experts are concerned that the new BCI market could create the potential for surgical injuries, long-term complications and other health effects. Discontinued BCIs can also create serious challenges for adopters without proper support.

Brain-computer interfaces remain experimental for now, but high-profile projects from companies like Facebook and Neuralink could soon bring BCI technology to a wider commercial audience. .

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