Last updated December 4, 2017 at 9:24 am
Intelligence can be artificial, but ethics are very real. When it comes to robots, we were gifted a great ethical starting point by science fiction author Isaac Asimov – his Three Laws of Robotics, which revolve around obeying and not harming humans.
But a brain-computer interface (BCI) is a whole new kettle of fish.
‘Current BCI technology is mainly focused on therapeutic outcomes, such as helping people with spinal-cord injuries. It already enables users to perform relatively simple motor tasks — moving a computer cursor or controlling a motorized wheelchair, for example’, say the authors of a new set of guidelines on BCI ethics.
But it won’t be long before artificial intelligence is thrown into the mix – which, in some ways, will be great! The authors continue:
‘Technological developments mean that we are on a path to a world in which it will be possible to decode people’s mental processes and directly manipulate the brain mechanisms underlying their intentions, emotions and decisions; where individuals could communicate with others simply by thinking; and where powerful computational systems linked directly to people’s brains aid their interactions with the world such that their mental and physical abilities are greatly enhanced. Such advances could revolutionize the treatment of many conditions, from brain injury and paralysis to epilepsy and schizophrenia, and transform human experience for the better.’
But there could be a darker side to this future as well:
‘The technology could also exacerbate social inequalities and offer corporations, hackers, governments or anyone else new ways to exploit and manipulate people. And it could profoundly alter some core human characteristics: private mental life, individual agency and an understanding of individuals as entities bound by their bodies.’
In the face of these issues a team of international scientists, led by a biologist and a philosopher, have put forward four main areas of concern:
- Privacy and consent – when your brain is hooked up to a machine, it has access to a whole lot of very personal data
- Agency and identity – we may struggle to maintain a clear delineation between where our brains stop and artificial intelligence starts
- Augmentation – as well as repairing the human body, BCIs could enhance them
- Bias – in the past, artificial intelligence technologies have become racially or gender biased
They add that it’s time for a code of conduct for basically anyone working in the field:
‘A first step towards this would be to expose engineers, other tech developers and academic-research trainees to ethics as part of their standard training on joining a company or laboratory. Employees could be taught to think more deeply about how to pursue advances and deploy strategies that are likely to contribute constructively to society, rather than to fracture it.’
They aren’t shy to point out that they’re basically suggesting that the AI industry mimic the medical industry – perhaps we’ll see a Robo-hippocratic oath in the near future. At the end of the day in artificial intelligence and neurology, like in everything, there is some very safe advice: be excellent to each other.