back to article Brain-computer interface researchers warn of a 'bleak' cyberpunk future – unless we tread carefully

Researchers at Imperial College London have sounded the alarm over a "bleak panorama" surrounding brain-computer interfaces (BCI), warning of a potential future in which BCI-equipped cyborgs divide the world – or have their inner thoughts harvested for commercial exploitation. BCIs are, potentially, the next big thing. From …

  1. Potemkine! Silver badge

    GIST SAC

    Hacking brains in a near future is becoming more and more plausible.

    1. MrDamage

      Re: GIST SAC

      Hi,

      It appears you're having a thought. Would you like help with that?

  2. Denarius Silver badge

    augmented and not auged ?

    I suggest groups like Mennonites may have more recruits in worst case scenario. Certainly the question of "What problem does this solve" springs to mind. For those with damaged bodies, it solves a defined problem. For the trendies, perhaps another possible route for infections ? Given the cost and I suspect clumsiness of the gear in foreseeable future, not an issue yet or IMHO, likely to be.

  3. Mnot Paranoid
    Big Brother

    As much as I'm sure this BCI stuff is cool...

    I don't trust the people making it as far as I could throw them.

    Your personal autonomy begins and ends here.

    1. andy k O'Croydon
      Headmaster

      Re: As much as I'm sure this BCI stuff is cool...

      I'm of a similar opinion. When I first heard about the idea years ago I thought it would be an awesome way to improve my brain, and I couldn't wait to sign up.

      Unlike yourself, I think the people making it are likely to be intelligent, hard-working and fascinated by pushing the boundaries of what's possible. The people I don't trust are the ones who want to make money out of it. The internet seems to be a good analogue of this, built by people looking to connect ideas and share research (yes, maybe not all of them but I'm sure a lot of the engineers on the ground were), but then look what happened when people wanted to start making money off it.

      So if this stuff is ever released, I think I'll stick to enhancing my intelligence the old-fashioned way, by learning more (old-skool! Hence icon).

      I appreciate as others have stated that for those with limited mobility this could be a life-changer, but I'd be wary about what "diagnostics" and "monitoring" would be done on the sly which the user agreed to as part of a long, unintelligible EULA.

  4. John Sturdy
    Big Brother

    Rule 34B

    About a decade ago, I was working with a UI researcher on a proposal for a project to explore novel human-computer interaction technologies for use in software development. He decided to steer clear of BCIs, and said he reckoned they would first appear from China, and would be used to enhance pornography --- picking up on what lights your candle and giving you more of it.

    And that would be a wonderful source of data for anyone who wants to lean on you.

    (Yes, I'm sure there'll also be BCI porn, but I put Rule 34B because the porn industry could monetize it behind the scenes as well as in front of the camera.)

  5. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Too much of a Similarity Suggests at least a Singularity Pathway ..... AIModus Operandi/Vivendi

    I might like to concur with observations/warnings researching Imperial College London warnings of paths on/in which one is best advised to tread carefully, with evidence for that declaration already spookily shared earlier on TheNextPlatform

    amanfromMars [2107220630] ..... having a say on https://www.nextplatform.com/2021/07/21/what-are-quantum-hardware-startups-thinking/

    Regarding the Quantum Communication Software Stack and Future Applications for ITs Virtual Hardware Machinery to Engage with and Run for Extensive Exceptional Executive Atomic Programs, be assured there be no dearth of those ready, willing and already delivering enablement of Fields of Play Commands and Controls ...... for that which and/or those who would Lead with AIVisions to Front in a Vanguard rather than more simply follow with subsequent developments hosted later towards the rear of the Thought Train providing AudioVisual Presentations/Sight and Sound Realisations of Programs and Projects Trialed and Trailed Ahead ..... resultant in such as the following recently Registered one, ..... an Almighty Powerful EMPowering Net Zero Cost Device to Driver in Any Good Direction of One's Choice ..... an early Pathfinder AIMaster Pilot Tracking Future Progress and Beta Testing Foreign Abilities and Alien Utilities down on Earth, a Prime Example of both the Direction and Scope of Intended Travel and the Power and Energy of Available Highly Enriched Core Source Ore Drivers.

    To imagine such is something/anything able to be stopped in its tracks or derailed is the exercise of delusion and hubris taken to its catastrophic extreme.

    1. very angry man

      Re: Too much of a Similarity Suggests at least a Singularity Pathway ..... AIModus Operandi/Vivendi

      Love your insight

      My thinking is " it's one thing to take signals out , But how do we put them in?"

      then things become profoundly more interesting.

      been several movies set on this, liked them all

      "evil laugh"

  6. John Hawkins

    Easy for able bodied to criticise

    But I imagine someone who is paraplegic or otherwise physically handicapped might beg to differ. In spite of the general iffiness of BCI.

  7. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Depends what you mean by augmentation

    "BCI isn't just about restoring functionality, though, but can also be used to augment it"

    While nobody would reasonably argue against restoration of functionality, the validity of this statement depends entirely on two things - the baseline of the "unaugmented" and the nature and degree of augmentation. Let's consider perception for example, as it's a primary basis for thought. Since most people spend much of their time effectively on autopilot using very little perceptive capacity, technology-mediated augmentation of that baseline would seem a rather heavy handed way to improve performance, whereas learning to pay attention better would ultimately be more economic, probably more effective and quite simple to achieve.

    Many years ago I underwent some very simple training that permanently improved my perceptive baseline by a very large increment, and it involved no more than a very short and quite lightweight apprenticeship with a teacher and some follow up practice. No mechanics were necessary.

    Until the baseline gets to be as good as is possible without the technological intervention, we're not going to get the best out of the intervention and there's a danger of the baseline degrading as the technologies are allowed to take over from, rather than supplementing, innate capacities. This has happened in many fields already - the simplest examples being capacities for mental arithmetic and spelling, which have been almost entirely supplanted by calculators and spell checkers. Although useful, both have contributed to a noticeable lack of critical judgement about the correctness of their results - numerical values that would be clearly wrong and words that would be clearly incorrectly chosen if scrutinised frequently pass unnoticed as the need to verify is no longer recognised.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Depends what you mean by augmentation

      "Since most people spend much of their time effectively on autopilot using very little perceptive capacity, technology-mediated augmentation of that baseline would seem a rather heavy handed way to improve performance, whereas learning to pay attention better would ultimately be more economic, probably more effective and quite simple to achieve."

      Not necessarily. Research has shown that each person's mental capacity (their CPU speed, you could say) has its limits (varying from person to person) and that perhaps if people aren't paying attention, their mind is on other, more-pressing things. After all, no one's realistically proposed the ol' spike on the steering wheel because there's always the risk of factors outside of our control (the one that springs to mind to me is the suicidal ghost driver).

      "Many years ago I underwent some very simple training that permanently improved my perceptive baseline by a very large increment, and it involved no more than a very short and quite lightweight apprenticeship with a teacher and some follow up practice. No mechanics were necessary."

      But by the same token, others can try the same thing and just wash out. Do you tell these people (who may be close to you), "Too bad, game over, better luck next life"?

      "This has happened in many fields already - the simplest examples being capacities for mental arithmetic and spelling, which have been almost entirely supplanted by calculators and spell checkers."

      I don't know about that. Have you seen old texts and so on? I don't think it takes technology to louse something up and swear it's still correct.

    2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: Depends what you mean by augmentation.Does Virtually Real Presentations answer that?

      Since most people spend much of their time effectively on autopilot using very little perceptive capacity, technology-mediated augmentation of that baseline would seem a rather heavy handed way to improve performance, ... ..... Mike 137

      Oh ‽ For an immediate increase with increased performance via Alien Means of Quantum Communication is such a heavy handed approach extreme in Light Touch Butterfly Fare Ware.

      IT Offers AI B00Sters in Futured Futures Markets. Where everything Heavenly is Provided for Quantum Leaping Progress.

      A BillionairesRUs Investment Vehicle for Group Hosting and Sub-Contracted Hire .....for Virtually Live Application Engagement of AI B00Sters.

      And AI Guaranteed Certified Successfully Turing Tested to FailSafe Magnificently and Magnanimously is a Wonderful Comfort to be Blanketed In ..... Cloaked.

      What's not to like?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Depends what... ...Real Presentations answer that?

        i feel there is something out of any grade/system of measurement/unit in the comment, but cannot translate it the way it turns itself into the words "you. yes, you"

    3. Trigonoceps occipitalis Silver badge

      Re: Depends what you mean by augmentation

      Transcription Morse code, all you need is ears and a typewriter.

      The fastest Morse code operator was Theodore Roosevelt McElroy copying at 75.6 wpm using a typewriter at the 1939 world championship.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bleak indeed.

    I don't want to live in a world where the IT industry is full of fat weeb neck beard heads on massive anime style robot bodies blasting KPop...because that's what will actually happen.

    On the other hand, we may be entering the time before the war where technology was somehow better that a lot of naff sci fi always talks about.

    1. TimMaher Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Bleak indeed.

      Daleks. Remember when they took the top off one and there was squishy little thing inside?

  9. WhereAmI?

    Wet dreams

    What most governments/spy agencies/etc. are having right now.

  10. Warm Braw Silver badge

    Inner thoughts harvested for commercial exploitation

    Most of my inner thoughts seem to be why did I come upstairs, again? and surely the government can't really be that stupid!.

    Monetize away...

    1. My-Handle Silver badge

      Re: Inner thoughts harvested for commercial exploitation

      I had a similar opinion regarding the line "...type at the speed of thought".

      My thoughts usually run along the lines of "Select the.. what?...yes, that thing... where value equals...wait, I need From...mm, lunch... yes, From that table... where... oh ffs, what were the columns called again...wow, I like her outfit..."

      And usually these kind of thoughts occur extremely quickly, way below the level of even internal vocalisation. How my fingers know what to type is of constant amazement to me. And I didn't even type that last sentence in a linear order.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Inner thoughts harvested for commercial exploitation

        > How my fingers know what to type is of constant amazement to me.

        Parallel processing. Our brain is not sequential, and while we (normally) have only one single stream of consciousness, most of us are capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time...

        We only notice our top level of "thoughts", but once this sends a "speak" or "walk" command, the speaking or walking processor takes over and handles the details, only calling back in case of problem. All else is handled internally, leaving your conscious mind thread free to daydream...

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Inner thoughts... ...exploitation

        "And usually these kind of thoughts occur extremely quickly, way below the level of even internal vocalisation. How my fingers know what to type is of constant amazement to me" -

        You simply look up in the nearest future where ideal things exist, and see a Personal Alternative Reality Presentation where a result of work of your your brain is seen in its perfect form - you see a typed text. When you correct the script, you just jump through a myriad of realities revolving around you and getting in touch with This Map by means of a HID of your computer/typewriter.

        When typing, one just picks a better future, carefully chosen from myriad of variations. Your fingers follow a most suitable of the textual samples seen in the reality your brain had voven a few moments ahead in time. Simples.

    2. naive Silver badge

      Re: Inner thoughts harvested for commercial exploitation

      I am sure google will be giving away these devices for free or as an Android extension.

  11. Captain Hogwash

    Re: considerable interest in using electronics to read peoples' minds

    Here comes the flood.

  12. Omnipresent

    It's a cult

    It's these GOT BLESSED SINGULARITY cult people. They all want to be "special". All want to live forever by joining man and machine. We have already given our natural world over to the virtual. We live in a feedback loop of information we create for ourselves. It's madness, and it makes me very happy that I will be in the natural dirt soon to miss the end.

    1. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: It's a cult

      @Omnipresent

      Fortunately, some of us don't just live in a feedback loop of information we create for ourselves.

      If we don't, the world is a much more interesting place. Reality can be vastly more surprising than any fantasy we can come up with - provided we pay attention to what is actually going on.

    2. TimMaher Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Yes but...

      If you gathered all of the thoughts and all of the data from everyone and everything you could change your tag to @Omniscient.

  13. Howard Sway

    It's not the thought reading functionality you need to be scared of

    Once they've read enough of them, someone will be able to use an AI big data muncher to work out how to write them back.

    Get ready for your compulsory daily upgrade.

  14. Vaughtex
    Terminator

    Defrag

    If they can just do me a memory defrag, clear out some of the useless crap in there and free up some space to learn new stuff, that would be fine!

    Though a decent set of Zuiko optics might be nice as well.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: Defrag

      >>>Clear out useless crap<<< like the memory of reading the bug list for your implant!

      Time to start work on the handy pocket sized EMP generator.

  15. Fr. Ted Crilly

    You don't even know your own name, you stupid d**khead!

    Ghost-hacked humans are so pathetic, it's a shame. And this poor bastard has been hacked pretty badly.......

  16. heyrick Silver badge

    Commercial exploitation of a person's inner thoughts 'particularly worrisome'

    Inner thought: "I hate my boss, I hate my life, I want to kill everyone".

    BING! An advert pops up. "These countries are currently hiring contract killers. Comprehensive benefits packages available."

  17. Chris G Silver badge

    AaaS

    Considering that so many are changing to, or looking at an 'as a service' business model for almost anything you can think of, the aforementioned makes the possibilites for commercialised BCI quite horrific.

    Imagine having to go through a licensing audit for your augmentations; arms, legs, organ augmentation and being told you have exceeded your licencing agreement but you can't afford to pay any more.

    With some of the as a service companies that are already out there, if they ran BCI augmentations you would be looking at a potential BSOD, blue scream of death.

  18. Chronos
    Mushroom

    I can imagine that future

    You appear to be thinking about using an etherkiller on the director of HR's machine. Would you like some help with that?

    Clippy. In your head. Icon, from orbit. It's the only way...

  19. Flywheel Silver badge
    Terminator

    Should regulatory bodies intervene to prevent misuse and unequal access

    They should, but given the efficacy of various regulatory bodies to actually regulate everyday entities like solicitors, Banks, money laundering and trading standards, I'd suggest we're dead in the water before we start.

    That is all.

  20. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Finally, eventually ..... and just in time ...... which is the natural way of such things?

    How very nice and extremely encouraging to discover via freely shared commentary here on El Reg that out there there be more intelligent life phorms of a novel mindset able to recognise there be no such thing as a norm.

    1. TimMaher Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: No such thing as a norm.

      There is. I’ve met him.

  21. Binraider Bronze badge

    Who wouldn't want a brain co-processor... Unless it were used to spam you with advertising, political rants, malware, and probe your brain for bad thoughts & put mistakes you made on display?

    A phone probably does all of that already, albeit with a few extra steps needed to get data from A to B.

    1. yetanotheraoc

      spam you with advertising

      No advertising required. Think a thought, a few minutes later the delivery driver drops off a package on your doorstep. And don't even try to call the credit card company to dispute the charges, they will know you really wanted it, at least for a moment.

  22. ShadowSystems

    I want a DNI.

    From the ShadowRun 4th edition universe, a Direct Neural Interface (DNI) could be had by a DataJack in the side of your skull. I'd plug in a data cable to the DataJack, the other end to a Raspberry Pi "PiHole" for use as a firewall/filter, then add various bits & bobs to improve my life.

    A series of ultra high resolution, ultra fast frame rate, video cameras arranged to give 360 visual perception. Ditto with microphones. Build them into a Newsboy style cap, keep the PiHole literally under my hat, so nobody had to freak out by the guy with all the electronics on him.

    I could add wired & wireless internet connectivity for that all important porn surfing, email, and interacting with a SmartPhone completely through thought.

    CyberEars & CyberEyes might be nice, but only if I can afford the SynthSkin versions that appear as real as non-cyber versions. I doubt I'd go for CyberLimbs but only because I'm afraid I'd get drunk & wake up on the operating table with more CyberExtensions than a Hentai demon. *Cough*

    Still, even with the commercial issues in the mix, I'd love to get full use of my eyes & ears again. The PiHole can filter the spam, block telemetry, & leave me free to enjoy Youtube cat videos. =-)

    1. HildyJ Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: I want a DNI.

      You've hit the nail on the head (the jack on the port?).

      I have zero desire for a commercial BCI that links directly to its parent company.

      I have a great desire for a brain connection that links to my personal hardware firewall.

      I'd also like to see a standards body regulate the jack and port designs to allow some interoperability.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: I want a DNI.

        > zero desire for a commercial BCI

        Who has. The problem is the heady pioneer days are all but over, and this will be monetized right from the start, most likely as a "freemium" "as-a-service" offer with so many strings attached they'll offer you a free comb...

  23. TDog

    Sex

    Just like the web, and usenet (alt.sex.whatever) at least 50% will be sex and or porn related. We are hardwired that way.

  24. JWLong Bronze badge

    Tinfoil hat

    Time to buy stock in Reynolds aluminium.

  25. KiLVaiDeN

    How to do it

    It's obvious that this technology will introduce inequalities. But it's just like internet access, now most people take it for granted even though it was a privilege at some point, became a 'norm' in developed countries, and is now (or should) be available for all : we can't afford a global and uniform access to it.

    The same is true for simply accessing a computer.

    We need to make sure that those who access this technology first are those capable of making it more popular. It must first be a tool for scientists and innovators. It will allow for a faster and wider spread sooner.

    As for the privacy concerns, make it sure that no data can get out without a 'mind decision'. Create a mind firewall first.

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