Summary: Can brain-computer interfaces and user privacy coexist? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Original author and publication date: Jeff Link – August 17, 2021 (updated)
Futurizonte Editor’s Note: It is time to explore the ethical implication of brain-computerr interfaces before there is no longer the option to do it.
From the article:
icture this: It’s June 11, 2046 and a young designer, Vance, wakes up and puts on an earpiece called Eva. The device, a brain-computer interface (BCI) of the future, decodes neural signals in his brain. Using only his thoughts, he asks the device to report his daily notifications and 13 new “thought messages” appear on his phone.
Later, at work, a barrage of notifications are announced through the earpiece until he asks all except phone calls and messages to be silenced until 11:30 a.m. Using his mind to operate an imagined desktop application called Neural Sculptor, he designs a three-dimensional animated figure, mentally narrating the creation of the eyes, ears, hair, mouth and beard.
Back at home, with Eva’s voice as a guide, he cooks ratatouille and makes plans with a friend. Before signing off for the evening, he reads part of a book and silently asks Eva to save inspirational passages. She tells him, “Based on your serotonin levels, the most impactful quote was, ‘You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.’”
This scenario is pure fantasy, of course — a speculative YouTube video about the future of BCIs created by the product design studio Card79. But Afshin Mehin, design director at the company, which has worked on everything from the industrial design of implantable brain-computer interfaces for Elon Musk’s Neuralink to futuristic wearable tech for companies like Lululemon, said it’s a future that’s starting to come into focus.
“I think the implications are super broad and expansive at this point because we have a lot of imagination about what BCIs could do,” Mehin said. “And I think this is a fun time to imagine what’s possible.”
If Mehin’s predictions come true, as the uses of brain-computer interfaces progress from highly regulated clinical and experimental research trials for people with neuromuscular conditions — such as spinal cord injuries, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), cerebral palsy and brain stem stroke — to public health and consumer applications, UX and UI designers will play an important role in imagining their potential uses and ethical implications.
And indeed, the results of recent research demonstrations are impressive. Last month, a team at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), led by neurosurgeon Edward Chang, used a high-density electrode array to decode words from brain activity. As reported in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the trial’s first participant was a 36-year-old man who experienced a stroke that left him unable to form intelligible words. With an electrode array surgically implanted in his sensorimotor cortex, an area of the brain involved in tactile perception and the planning and execution of physical movement, the man was able to form words on a computer screen at a rate of roughly 15 words per minute.