Advances in computer-brain interfaces -- of which Elon Musk's Neuralink might be the most prominent example -- raise important ethical issues about their use and about who decides, as this article from Science News points out.
"Today, paralyzed people are already testing brain-computer interfaces, a technology that connects brains to the digital world. With brain signals alone, users have been able to shop online, communicate and even use a prosthetic arm to sip from a cup. The ability to hear neural chatter, understand it and perhaps even modify it could change and improve people’s lives in ways that go well beyond medical treatments. But these abilities also raise questions about who gets access to our brains and for what purposes. Because of neurotechnology’s potential for both good and bad, we all have a stake in shaping how it’s created and, ultimately, how it is used. But most people don’t have the chance to weigh in, and only find out about these advances after they’re a fait accompli. So we asked Science News readers their views about recent neurotechnology advances. We described three main ethical issues — fairness, autonomy and privacy. Far and away, readers were most concerned about privacy. "The idea of allowing companies, or governments, or even health care workers access to the brain’s inner workings spooked many respondents. Such an intrusion would be the most important breach in a world where privacy is already rare. 'My brain is the only place I know is truly my own,' one reader wrote. Technology that can change your brain — nudge it to think or behave in certain ways — is especially worrisome to many of our readers. ...
"'We are getting very, very close' to having the ability to pull private information from people’s brains, [Columbia University neurobiologist Rafael] Yuste says, pointing to studies that have decoded what a person is looking at and what words they hear. Scientists from Kernel, a neurotech company near Los Angeles, have invented a helmet, just now hitting the market, that is essentially a portable brain scanner that can pick up activity in certain brain areas. ... Technology that can change the brain’s activity already exists today, as medical treatments. These tools can detect and stave off a seizure in a person with epilepsy, for instance, or stop a tremor before it takes hold. ... But the power to precisely change a functioning brain directly — and as a result, a person’s behavior — raises worrisome questions. ... Precise brain control of people is not possible with existing technology. But in a hint of what may be possible, scientists have already created visions inside mouse brains. Using a technique called optogenetics to stimulate small groups of nerve cells, researchers made mice 'see' lines that weren’t there. Those mice behaved exactly as if their eyes had actually seen the lines, says Yuste, whose research group performed some of these experiments. ...
"People ought to have the choice to sell or give away their brain data for a product they like, or even for straight up cash [according to Zurich-based bioethicist Marcello Ienca]. 'The human brain is becoming a new asset,' Ienca says, something that can generate profit for companies eager to mine the data. He calls it 'neurocapitalism.' ...
"A lack of ethical clarity is unlikely to slow the pace of the coming neurotech rush. But thoughtful consideration of the ethics could help shape the trajectory of what’s to come, and help protect what makes us most human."
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