Experts Predict Mind-Controlled Devices May Be Common By 2040s

Mohit Shivdasani, a biomedical engineering specialist at the University of New South Wales, predicts that mind-controlled devices using smart brain technology may be common by the 2040s.

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Experts believe that advances in “smart brain” technology will allow people to operate smart devices with their minds by 2040.

A wearable or implanted gadget known as a “smart brain,” or Brain-Machine Interface (BMI), connects the human brain directly to smart devices such as computers, smartphones, and robotic limbs.

It would obfuscate the distinction between humans and machines by enabling people to send texts, use the internet, and change thermostats with just their thoughts.

Mohit Shivdasani, a biomedical engineering specialist at the University of New South Wales (UNSW), stated that scientists are “very close” to mind-controlled devices becoming commonplace rather than a sci-fi idea.

“We’re not far off from seeing someone walking around with a brain-machine interface outside of a lab,” he said.

“We have computers all around us. They are in our pockets and traveling everywhere we go, but to think of integrating that directly with the brain to use the technology … it’s pretty amazing.”

Following a successful test on two crippled individuals, he suggested that persons with disabilities would especially benefit from mind-controlled devices.

“One particular [paralyzed] person was able to control a robotic arm just by thinking about it, while another person was able to move a cursor on a computer screen and read his email,” he said.

According to him, the technology functions by restoring the flow of messages from the brain to the limbs.

“There are situations where the brain can send signals, but those signals can’t get to limbs for the person to be able to then walk for themselves. So what a brain-machine interface would do is read those thoughts and convert those thoughts to an action,” he said.

In addition, he is developing smart brain bionic eyes for the blind as well as chronic pain and inflammatory bowel disease devices.

Neuralink revealed in a statement that they will start human trials of brain implants for paralysis patients.

He feels that the broad adoption of smart brains can greatly benefit persons facing various challenges that impair their quality of life.

“I’ve had a lot of chats with blind patients. When you ask them what they want from a bionic eye, they’ll say: ‘I want to see my family,'” he explained.

“I remember one conversation with a lady, and she said: ‘I would love to be able to see the Target sign again because when I go into the shopping center, I want to be able to find Target really easily.”

“As an engineer, I would never have thought about that, but that could be so important.”

Future of Connected Health

PhD candidate Claire Bridges from UNSW discussed a few more advantages.

She said that telehealth and other connected health innovations will benefit from smart brains.

“With COVID, we saw a big expansion in the need for and provision of telehealth, which has been incredibly beneficial. To further expand that and improve our ability to provide health care to people who might not be able to see a clinician or undergo a test in person, we can use wearable devices,” she explained.

She predicted that implanted blood glucose monitors and sensors, or “smart brain watches,” would transform the way physicians interact with their patients.

“Devices like these can collect huge amounts of data as they continuously monitor the person wearing them. AI could be a big help with this, analyzing these big data sets to identify relevant health information and sending it to a patient’s treating clinician,” she added.

When patients are ill, doctors can then act in almost real-time, according to her.

“Whether it’s inflammatory markers in the blood or hormone secretion or neurotransmitter issues, we could catch things earlier and get that early diagnosis so that we can have more effective preventative health,” she explained.

“On average, Australians spend about 11 years of their life in poor health, but with the advances we’re seeing in our biomedical technology, both in terms of physical, actual hands-on implanted treatment or drug delivery or other developing technology, we have a lot of opportunity to improve things.”

Expert Warns of Risks

But Christina Maher, a biological researcher, compared smart brains to someone “speaking” for individuals, which raised intrusive ethical issues.

“For example, a brain-computer interface (BCI) may generate the output “I’m good” when the user intended it to be “I’m great”. These are similar, but they aren’t the same. It’s easy enough for a non-disabled person to physically correct the mistake—but for people who can only communicate through BCIs, there’s a risk of being misinterpreted,” she said.

She added that individuals are powerless to decide which brain impulses to send to the smart brain.

“Brain data are arguably our most private data because of what can be inferred regarding our identity and mental state,” she said.

“Yet private BCI companies may not need to inform users about what data are used to train algorithms.”

According to her, moral dilemmas make us consider what’s best for society and for individuals.

“For instance, should individuals in the military be equipped with neuroenhancing devices so they can better serve their country and protect themselves on the front lines, or would that compromise their individual identity and privacy? And which legislation should capture neuro rights: data protection law, health law, consumer law, or criminal law?”

However, she noted that, in part because of technological limitations, smart brains are unlikely to send mankind into a gloomy future.

“After all, there’s a leap between a BCI sending a short text and interpreting one’s entire stream of consciousness … making this leap largely comes down to how well we can train algorithms, which requires more data and computing power,” she explained.

Scientist Andrew Jackson noted that society currently has nothing to be afraid about.

“When it segues into talk of enhancement—the idea that we might be able to, for instance, write new memories into our brain or upload our memories onto a hard drive or into the cloud—we know a lot less about how those brain systems work,” he told ABC News.

He clarified that compared to equipment, the human body is still far more powerful.

The benefits of utilizing a brain-machine interface now, according to him, are “still nothing like the sophistication of a normally functioning nervous system.”

“I think we have to be realistic,” he stated.

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