Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.
Elon Musk has recently been in the headlines (shock) for the work undertaken by his Neuralink company, which aims to provide a reliable connection between the human brain and machines. It’s a breakthrough that has a number of implications, but as a new report from the Royal Society reminds us, these breakthroughs also have a number of ethical considerations that may require government intervention to ensure the technology evolves in the right way.
Neural interfaces are devices that are implanted into the body and record or stimulate activity in the brain or nervous system. Supporters believe this opens up a wide range of possibilities in areas such as dementia and other mental health conditions.
Despite the technology undoubtedly being at a very early stage, the authors believe government should start to investigate it and ensure that any ethical and legal considerations are factored in from the start.
“The applications for neural interfaces are as unimaginable today as the smartphone was a few decades ago,” they say. “They could bring huge economic benefits to the UK and transform sectors like the NHS, public health and social care, but if developments are dictated by a handful of companies then less commercial applications could be side-lined.”
A growth market
The authors believe that the UK’s strong track record at supporting startup growth, coupled with the unique environment provided by the NHS offers a fertile ground for growing the use of neural interface technologies.
The authors believe that a new regulatory approach is required to help cultivate this new industry however, especially given the ethical and legal concerns surrounding the technology.
They recommend launching a national investigation of the various ethical issues thrown up by neural interfaces, whether in terms of the data that’s collected, how it’s stored, and how acceptable the enhancements are.
These issues should be explored alongside the creation of a ‘Neural Interface Ecosystem’ in the UK to support innovation and collaboration in the field. This ecosystem could include a sandbox to allow new medical devices to be tested to showcase their safety and reliability for a larger market.
They also urge a public debate on the matter that can build upon the engagement work already done by the Royal Society, which found strong support for neural interface technology applications in helping people to recover from physical injuries, but much less so with mental health problems.
Such use cases are already evident in areas such as stroke rehabilitation, but no internally implanted interfaces are currently operating outside of medicine. The authors believe this is only a matter of time, not least as people like Musk enter the field. While some of their use cases veer towards gimmicky status, there are clearly a number of interesting applications, but it’s wise to start considering the full implications before such technologies hit the market at scale.
Article source: New Report Urges Government Action On Brain-Machine Linkups.