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Who’s Talking – Your Brain or Your Mouth?

Our thoughts are very complex expressions and working of the neural networks in the brain which reflect our cognition and intelligence, both of which are founded on the memories established through learned knowledge and daily life experiences. We are well aware that we do not speak every thought of ours and what we speak by itself is a decision-making process. Freedom to the expression of thoughts, according to neuroscience, is a boon to the social animal, humans, and even other animals decide whether they make their next move to the desired partner or not while courting.

Taking a closer look at the life of Stephen Hawking whose collaboration with technological corporations such as Intel and SwiftKey enabled him to express his thoughts and ideas. But the technologies that steered the life of Stephen Hawking had limitations to those sets of phrases uploaded into his speech synthesizing system and prediction technologies and did not tap his mind. These inspirations led to aspirations for developing bionic technologies such as brain-to-brain communication so that people failing with neurological disorders can be accommodated to perform beyond daily living skills, cognitive actions. Other such bionic technologies like brain bridging were aspired to provide life to the fullest for those who have lost memories to neurotrauma following accidents or attacks.

Research on brain-to-brain communication had its inception in 1969 when monkeys controlled the deflection of a biofeedback arm that developed to public recognition again in 2011 when a monkey controlled the position of an avatar arm. But this was not until 2014 when brain-to-computer-to-computer-to-brain communication was first successful in humans located across the geographies of the USA, France, and India. This involved following the meeting of two different technologies – brain-computer interface with computer-brain interface. The decade progressed remarkably in this direction, so rapidly, that these technologies are now in the hands of corporate research foreseeing access to laymen from not being very far. However, what is good about all that is out on the news is they all are ethical except for questions of safety and manipulation when in the wrong hands. For example, the website of Neuralink clearly worded their aim as to design a BCI implant to allow the user to control the computer or the mobile device for remote diagnosis and timely interventions in Parkinson’s or epilepsy patients. DARPA states to have a much more advanced BCI implant. A more ambitious project is BrainNet, an organic supercomputer, that can cross language barriers in communication. Fascinating development happened when Neurograins, BCIs of the size of salt grains, were developed with the ability to turn the neuro signals to act like moving mobile towers by employing their own network protocol by designating a network address to these neural signals emanating from each of these neurograin chips. This is a radical technological merge of brain science with electromagnetics, radio frequency communication, circuit design, and fabrication. A PRISMA review of various such technologies does affirm, however, despite all the major advancements the field is still young and naïve for real use. This rate of advancement will soon allow us to send our thoughts directly as text messages, mind tapping or reading a person’s thoughts, and even alter or control what we think.

Knowledge is empowerment but not power. We have long been knowing how to tap neural activity and with the development of advanced technologies such as BCIs and CBIs, we have made ourselves powerful using our knowledge. But knowing how the neural signals work and how we can defend ourselves when hurt by sinister activities or for our own explorations, we are empowered. Research in such directions has enlightened scientific reasoning to the observed telepathy communication between animals, our connection with nature or earth’s magnetic fields, and the traditional superhuman beliefs being attributed to the existence of cryptochromes, mirror neurons, and magnetic particles made of iron.  

Now this raises the need to ponder over ELSI (ethical, social, and legal issues) related to these technologies. Our law enforcement authorities are facing a rat race with hackers and cyberstalkers for no security patch update lasts effectively or secures our privacy. Now, connecting our brains to such technology questions the safety of our neural data stored on these devices and the possibility of AI and ML sinister installations taking control of us. The repercussions can be as simple as cruel kins controlling the ownership of assets in a family tussle to losing our kids to terrorism or human trafficking or even inhumanity beyond human imagination when in the hands of dark personalities. This leads to questioning the ethical and social morality in how much are we exploring considering the knowledge of brain functioning we have is still a minimum that the implications of our experimentation cannot be clear. How are we going to save ourselves should be asked first, isn’t it?

Rachel Predeepa, fondly called Rachel and Rach, is a biologist and environmentalist. She has lived in Australia and India. Although she specializes in plant biology, her interests in cybercrime, technology, and brain science communication turned out to be a need as a victim of cybercrime. Her job roles as an academic in India, a research scholar at the University of Western Australia, and with academic publishers allow her to explore her insights and innate drive to research ethics, and the need to combat dark research.

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