Updated: Nov 7, 2019
Courtesy Facebook & Co.
Written by - Prachi Shah
Believe it or not, Virtual Reality that can be controlled by your mind is a former idea of science fiction that is within reach today. In other words, a Star Wars fan can make happen to be a Jedi and move objects at will - at least in the virtual world. This is a possibility because Facebook is investing it’s research dollars to come up with tech that will decipher our brain’s neuronic signals and translate them into words.
This fascinating technology with its limitless possibilities - will initially be put to use in helping patients of paralysis to communicate with the world around them. Introducing the technology with such a tremendously benevolent start will help catapult its idea into popularity among the public. In the United States alone - over 5.4 million people are living with paralysis.
Facebook has its eyes and goals set on a far-reaching and wide-spanning goal - and that is to be able to give us humans the ability to control all digital equipment. From simple things like the keyboard to future tech like high-end AR glasses that can possibly feed you content at the speed of thought. This will free up a whole lot of time shaved off in mundane tasks. This could enable a high level of qualitative and economic impact - both at micro as well as macro level.
The success of this tech will largely depend on being able to acquire large volumes and a variety of brain data. This is expected to be received with mixed feelings - especially to the people for who it could mean a serious invasion of privacy. This is also true because the tech can possibly infiltrate more data - than what the tech is being used for.
As the research is carrying on in the University of California - San Francisco - the research team has released a result report from their initial study noting that they are able to decipher brain activity to text on a computer screen in real-time. Although the corresponding vocabulary pool is limited - this is a promising start for some.
Scientists, Military and companies like Paradromics and Kernel are also working in this neurotech space. Elon Musk’s Neuralink is coming up with ‘flexible threads’ that once implanted in the brain can control computers, smartphones, and another similar tech just with human thoughts. The expectation is to begin testing on humans by the end of 2020. Just think what this would mean if combined with Artificial Intelligence. Elon Musk’s eventual aim is exactly that - achieve perfect sync between neuro-tech and AI.
Like everything has the ‘other’ side - there are wide-ranging ethical implications of this tech and these possibilities. Some of these are:
Existential Alienation - bringing the purpose and physics-chemistry of the human body and our social structure under a serious microscope. With so much mind-control and mind-controlled at play - what will, after all, be the purpose of our body and it’s aspects.
A New Normal? - If what once seemed like an impossibility becomes a close arriving reality - what will become of the now normal? Will there be a new normal? Are the human race and human mind ready for the side effects such as these and more? These questions are fast moving out of the realms of a riveting novel and entering the realms of ‘Real’ in the coming times.
Accountability and Law - Who will be responsible for the consequences of the tech’s unfolding - both directly and indirectly or consequentially? There can be a substantial domino effect of such technology going unsupervised - especially with the possibility of Brain Computing, AR and VR teaming up with Artificial Intelligence.
Authoritarian Lapse - The speed at which this tech will play out may not be slow enough for lawmakers to make rules governing the playout or even make incremental changes to the rules if already in place. This will bring about serious operational challenges while speaking of law and order.
Privacy - Last but not least - the most obvious implication will be that on an individual, organizational and even national privacy.
To sum it up, no matter how this turns out - the tech is fast approaching towards us all and is most likely coming to stay and metamorphosis. You may love it or hate it - but I am sure of one thing - you will not be able to ignore this avalanche of possibilities coming your way.