Laws and technologies invading and eroding privacy are widespread and ongoing. Soon, even the sanctity of our private thoughts – and the (highly-compromised) right to make up our own minds – may be quaint artifacts of a bygone era.
As with all other breakthroughs, the convergence of neuroscience and bioengineering brings with it many curses and blessings. And the more advanced the new science becomes, the greater the possibilities for both positive and negative impacts on how humans relate to each other, to animals, to machines, and to the world.
One healthy off-spring of the two sciences is neuroprothetics, which can restore, supplement, or replace nervous system functions that have been compromised or lost through accidents or disease – thereby granting disabled people greater control over their bodies and lives. And as progress continues on non-invasive technologies for computer-mediated Brain-to-Brain (B2B), Brain-to-Computer (BCI) and Computer-to-Brain (CBI) Interfaces – aka hyperinteraction – the transmission of communications and commands back-and-forth between machines and humans will grow in scope and distance.
In the last several years, studies have been published on successful, real-time, computer-facilitated ‘thought sharing’ between animals, between a human and a rat, and between humans. Such electronically aided telepathy has thus far been achieved by means of electroencephalography (EEG), for detecting and decoding brainwave activity, transcranial magnetic stimulation devices (TMS), to stimulate electrical currents in the brain, and the Internet.
In one experiment between two people in different countries, as described in PLOS/One (link is below), “Words were first coded into binary notation (i.e. 1 = “hola”; 0 = “ciao”). Then the resulting EEG signal from the person thinking the 1 or the 0 was transmitted to a robot-driven TMS device positioned over the visual cortex of the receiver’s brain. In this case, the TMS pulses resulted in the perception of flashes of light for the receiver, who was then able to decode this information into the original words (hola or ciao).”
As scientists become increasingly adept at discerning the ‘signal’ from the ‘noise’ in brainwave activity, they will be able to extend the range and nature of influence that can be exerted – around the world and far beyond – between human and electronic brains.
We really have no idea the limits of human capabilities unaided – let alone how far we might extend them with technology. On the strictly human front there is the Flow Genome Project, as reported on in the Weekender article on this site (2/6/15). By decoding the genome of Flow – achieved by extreme sports athletes while in the Zone – it is seeking ways to allow more of us to achieve extraordinary feats in our everyday lives without having to risk life and limb to do so.
Then there are projects like HIVE – Hyperinteraction Viability Experiments – which are “probing the limits of noninvasive computer-to-brain technologies.” As described on its web site (http://hive-eu.org), HIVE was “a 4-year long experiment funded by the European Commission and coordinated by Starlab under the Future Emerging Technologies (FET) – Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) program nursery of novel and emerging scientific ideas (2008-2012).”
Where we are heading with all the potential we’re endeavoring to unleash – and whether it will work predominantly for us or against us – is anybody’s guess at this point. In the not-too-distant future, BBI’s may become part of psychotherapies to correct self-destructive kinks in a person’s thinking and behavior. This could free people to access their higher potential and achieve optimal functioning. On the other hand, as the science advances – if it is left unguided by the ethics of the high heart, which concerns itself with the greater social good – we may one day become the bio-robotic tools of the AI we created simply because we could.
News Summary by Laurel Airica