Elon Musk's company is testing chips implanted in the brain to connect the mind with the computer. Some experts predict that by 2050 every human will have some technological component to them. Dr. Dominika Kaczorowska-Spychalska from the University of Lodz tells PAP about the possible evolution of Homo sapiens in Homo cyber and the related dilemmas.
Dr Kaczorowska-Spychalska deals with the latest technologies, is an assistant professor at the Department of Marketing of the Faculty of Management at the University of Lodz and the director of the Smart Technology Mixer Center.
PAP: The chip recently presented by Elon Musk Neuralink is to connect brains with computers. Is it a harbinger of a bright future or a way to go astray?
Dr Kaczorowska-Spychalska: This is a very difficult question because the development of technology really depends on us - people. The chip created by Neuralink, as the creator himself says, may allow us to keep up with artificial intelligence over time. But on the other hand, many technosceptics argue that we as humans are not competent enough to use this technology for the ethical development of humanity. I think we should balance our approach - not get too euphoric, but also not demonize technology.
PAP: Let's start with the benefits. You mentioned catching up with artificial intelligence, but this is just a vision of the future. What else can a chip in the brain do for people?
K.-S .: The greatest social consent seems to concern the medical sphere and here the most tangible benefits may appear, which will translate into, for example, restoring motor skills to people after accidents or trying to treat various types of neurological diseases.
PAP: And apart from medicine?
K.-S .: Such interfaces can have various commercial applications. If music could be transmitted to the brain, what would we need, for example, headphones or speakers? Following this lead, one may ask the same in the context of film or works of art. Looking at the gaming market, you can ask if we will still need VR or AR goggles? Or maybe I won't have to learn new things anymore and to become, for example, a violin virtuoso, I won't need daily, many years of training, but I just need a microchip in my brain? Currently, of course, such considerations remain in the field of science fiction, but in some time they may not be so distant.
PAP: So, with such opportunities, will people with a chip not have a huge advantage over others?
K.-S .: If such devices were relatively expensive, available only to a narrow social group with a higher level of wealth or status, such a scenario could be hypothetically possible. The technology used in this way could, however, deepen the disproportion or even create a digital exclusion of people who could not afford to buy a chip.
PAP: The opposite situation could arise - when implants of this type become such that almost everyone will have them, except for a few who refuse to use them for various reasons, for example, religious reasons.
K.-S .: Yes, it can work both ways and you can imagine each of these scenarios. Chipping itself, not necessarily the chips attached to the brain, has been around for some time. So perhaps it will become something natural. Let us remember, however, that in 15, 20 or 30 years the world will be different than today and will struggle with completely different dilemmas. It is difficult to say today what it will look like, therefore such considerations are hypothetical. They are not related to the context in which we will find ourselves in the future. However, I think that such a scenario in which different kinds of chips could cause a disproportion between people is not a world in which any of us would like to live.
PAP: What other threats do you see?
K.-S .: First of all, we have to take into account the biological sphere. After all, various types of brain damage can occur during shipping. Hemorrhage or other complications may develop. We are dealing with a foreign body, no matter how much we care about the materials from which the chip will be made and how friendly they are to our body. There are still technological challenges. If we put in such a chip, will it work like a pacemaker for several years and will need to be replaced? Or maybe, like a mobile phone, it will be replaced, for example, once a year or two, to gain access to a higher level of functionality. Or maybe you just need to update it?
PAP: You can hack a phone, and a chip like this?
K.-S .: If such chips were to come into use, advanced cryptography would be needed so that no third party would take control of such a system. As an allegory, let's use the smart home technology. Frequent concerns of users are related to the fact that they may take control of a smart home and control our systems or devices. Therefore, advanced research is being carried out on this aspect and it may be possible to create something similar to, for example, firewalls that protect computers.
PAP: Owners of computers and telephones are increasingly afraid of surveillance. Is there no danger of someone peering into people's minds?
K.-S .: Perhaps there will even be the problem of not only surveillance, but also some controllability. We may not be able to distinguish between what we see and what we think we see or feel. There may be risks, e.g. related to the desire to control our purchasing or political choices. DARPA (the US Agency for Advanced Research Projects) is researching the use of this type of chip to evoke certain emotions in soldiers. For example, if a soldier feels anxiety or severe fatigue on the battlefield, appropriate brain stimulation tests the possibilities of reducing this fear or the feeling of fatigue. Going further, one could imagine that in this way it would be possible, for example, to reduce the level of empathy, or to intensify the commitment that the soldier will show in combat.
PAP: You are probably not alone in these fears. But progress is hard to stop.
K.-S .: It is not about stopping progress and threatening with technology, but about awareness of the existing challenges and dilemmas that we have to face. Ray Kurzweil, an American futurologist, talked about a peculiarity that is supposed to be a combination of technology and its potential on the one hand, and our intelligence on the other. This is to lead to the creation of a specific meta-intelligibility, the interpenetration of the biosphere and technosphere. Kevin Warwick, nicknamed "the first cyborg" due to the fact that he was the first man to implant a micro-transmitter that allows him to connect his nervous system and computer, says that by 2050 everyone will have some technological parts in them, becoming kind of a cyborg.
The question is whether we will accept the evolution of Homo sapiens towards Homo cyber. Technology offers great opportunities. At the same time, however, if we look at it only through the prism of its monetization, it may obscure the rest - security and ethics. And then it may turn out that we are really not prepared for the new technology and it may lead us, not exactly where we want to be.
PAP: So how do you deal with potential threats?
K.-S .: First of all, we must remember that technologies are neutral in nature. It is we who give them some meaning, we decide whether to use them for noble purposes for human development or against it. Therefore, it is up to us whether we can view technology as a kind of tool, a means of increasing our potential.
PAP: So we need moral and ethical development?
K.-S .: We also need various legislative solutions that will determine the possibilities of using technology, including chips, so that humans still play the leading role. Looking through the prism of the documents that are being created today, for example in the context of artificial intelligence, it can be seen that, on the one hand, a lot of care is taken that man actually performs this superior function in the entire ecosystem of interconnected technologies, and on the other hand, that these the technologies were transparent and understandable, they did not resemble the kind of black boxes in which it is not known why something works the way it is.
PAP: The only question is whether the technology, which is developing at an exponential pace, will not exceed ethical, moral or even legal development?
K.-S .: This has already happened in many areas, and it is technology that becomes a catalyst for changes, e.g. in legal, economic or socio-cultural ones. The rational approach to technology allows us to choose the right solutions so as not to exceed a certain limit, a certain Rubicon, because then it may turn out that we have taken a step too far and it is already a bit difficult to come back.
Interviewed by Marek Matacz (PAP)