The Neuralink project has reportedly entered the animal testing phase, making Elon Musk’s ambitious Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) plans one step closer to reality. However, the development of BCI also raises some very serious ethical issues.
The animal testing phase
When it began operations, Neuralink had rented two floors of a building in San Francisco, initially planning on converting one of them into an animal testing laboratory. This was very clear from the company’s letter to the planning commission in February 2017. And in April last year, the company sought permission from the California Department of Public Health to start using animals like mice in the lab.
In June 2018, an architect for the company stated that Neuralink will be building its facility somewhere outside the city. And in August, Neuralink’s move into the animal testing phase was hinted at by a woman who posted on LinkedIn that she had been hired by the company as a surgical technician.
“I have experience with performing gastrointestinal surgeries on several animal models, including rats, rabbits, cats, and pigs. I am currently working as a surgical technician at an Elon Musk startup called Neuralink,” Gizmodo quotes her post.
Although she later removed her association with Neuralink from her profile, it is speculated that the company has already initiated animal testing. Unfortunately, Neuralink has not made any official announcements in this regard.
The moral complexities of BCI
While the company is certainly moving ahead with its BCI development, though remaining secretive, the technology raises some very complex moral and legal problems.
The BCI will connect the human brain to the AI, thereby granting the person access to all information stored across the Internet. They will also be able to communicate with other people who have BCI implants in them.
And herein lies the problem — connecting to the Internet also means that others can connect to you, sometimes even against your will. What if a third party decides to connect to you and send information to your brain without consent?
“Regardless of where you stand on the whole privacy and surveillance issue [remember Edward Snowden], I cannot imagine a scenario in which there would not be an endless number of governments, advertisers, insurers, and marketing folks looking to tap into the very biological core of our cognition to use it as a means of thwarting evildoers and selling you stuff,” says an article at the Daily Mail.
Government, criminals, and other third parties may essentially be able to embed information into your brain, stimulating you into a certain behavior and mindset against your wishes.
For instance, a criminal could access your brain and stimulate it in such a way that you share the password of your bank account on a public forum. The government could subtly influence your brain to ensure that you end up voting for them during the upcoming elections. Possibilities of misuse of BCI technology are simply limitless. To make matters worse, law enforcement might not even know that you were actually manipulated.
Without knowing or confirming whether you acted according to your own will or from someone’s brain manipulation, the law will never be able to determine whether to punish you or to sympathize with you. Until such moral and legal issues are resolved, it might be foolish or too early to start implementing BCI technology in human beings.