Do we need to scan the brain of the other
in order to know his or her thoughts ?
in order to know his or her thoughts ?
It is possible to play the piano with your thoughts. We have seen it in my blog last week. However, research how your thoughts can steer your body via a brain implant is yet in an experimental stage, and we saw last week, for instance, that the pianist with ALS still had to be connected by a wire with a computer. But sooner or later also this problem will be solved, and then people with ALS will be able to do what every healthy person can do.
Research like this is not exceptional and it is done everywhere in the world. Not so long ago investigators of the Utrecht University in the Netherlands succeeded to let a woman with ALS express her thoughts on a computer screen, about in the same way as the pianist with ALS succeeded to play.
What happens here is that thoughts are downloaded to an implant and then converted that way that an apparatus external to the body proper is brought into operation. We can use this method in order to help disabled people. One step more is helping healthy people to function better. This is what Elon Musk – the founder of SpaceX and Tesla – had in his mind when he founded Neuralink Corp. The brain, so Musk, functions efficiently and fast, but once we want to put our thoughts into text and motion we slow down, and move at a snail’s pace. How much time it takes to write a short app on your smartphone, for instance! That can be done better. Simply download thoughts and transfer them to a machine or appliance. It will work so much faster! And why should we put a chip in the brain in order to read thoughts? A brain scanner will do as well. Okay, the present fMRI scanners that are often used for reading the brain are big and clumsy instruments but in future this problem will certainly be solved. Moreover, there are also other methods to measure brain activity and maybe thoughts. Anyway, Musk thinks that within five years it will be possible to tap thoughts from the brain in an efficient and useful way.
However, if we can download thoughts and use them, why couldn’t it be possible then to upload thoughts as well? This is also an idea Elon Musk is playing with, and not only Musk, for the field of artificial intelligence and its relation to the functioning of the human brain is a rapidly developing field of science. And once we can upload thoughts to the brain, the possibilities are endless. Many psychological illnesses but also physical illnesses that have their origins in the brain – and also ALS is such a disease – can perhaps be cured (or partly). Or we can communicate more efficiently with computers and smartphones. One step further is that we can communicate in a more efficient way with other people, when thoughts can be directly transferred from person to person. But will it all be positive? Esther Keymolen, technology philosopher at Leiden University, says in an interview with the Dutch daily De Volkskrant: “With this kind of technology, in fact you get a business undertaking in your head. Now already it is difficult to find out what technology companies do with your data and how they connect them.” Musk wants to prevent that artificial intelligence will control us instead of the other way round. But this development can also make that the artificial intelligent entity we are connected with sends things into our brains. “If that happens, you can ask: Who are we then?”
Indeed, who are you, if private firms send information into your brain? If a technology firm acts in good faith and sincerely wants to improve your life, you can say, it’s okay. But even then, your personality doesn’t depend any longer on what you make of it, but on what others make of it. If in good faith a company changes your characteristics, your memory, etc., maybe that’s what you want. However, then what makes you the person who you are has become in the hands of others (for can you really know what they upload to your brain, if already now you don’t know what they do with your data?). But what if the technology company that you deal with acts in bad faith? So if it doesn’t want the best for you but only for itself, anyhow? When this happens the company makes you according to its own design; not to yours. Then it is so that what makes you the person who you are has become in the hands of another. Then you are no longer you, but you are the other.
Yet one step further is that it is not a private company that manipulates you out of self-interest, but it is the state that does in order to control you and maybe all citizens by means of the new technology of artificial intelligence. Then it happens that Big Brother is not only watching you but that Big Brother is literally within you.
SourcesDe Volkskrant, dated 15 Nov. 2016, 22 and 29 March 2017; 22 Nov. 2018.