Imagine reading or listening to this article by controlling your technology with just your thoughts. No more keyboards or touchscreens. You could even control a video game with your mind.
The stuff of science fiction?
Actually, it’s now science fact.
Is this a good thing?
Elon Musk announced that his brain chip start-up Neuralink has implanted a device in its first live human subject. The quarter-sized chip is designed to interpret a person’s neural activity so they can control external devices with their thoughts. Is this a good thing? Let’s look at how medical ethicists consider the topic and then take four biblical steps.
Mind-reading technology is here
Elon Musk announced this week that his brain chip start-up Neuralink has implanted a device in its first live human subject. The quarter-sized chip is designed to interpret a person’s neural activity so they can control external devices with their thoughts. The chip is currently in clinical trials open to patients who have quadriplegia due to ALS or a spinal cord injury.
I serve as resident scholar for ethics with a Christian healthcare system. In this context, I can tell you that medical ethicists consider topics like today’s conversation in light of four factors:
- Benevolence: the obligation to act for the benefit of the patient
- Nonmaleficence: the obligation not to harm the patient
- Autonomy: respect for individual rights and dignity
- Justice: the responsibility to treat all persons and patients fairly and equitably.
Benevolence: Experts report that brain-computer interface (BCI) technology such as the Neuralink brain chip has a wide range of potential applications, especially for those with disabilities. BCIs have already helped paralyzed patients control a robotic arm or move a cursor with their thoughts. A recent trial even allowed a person to control a video game in this way.
Nonmaleficence: BCIs come with typical surgical risks and can also trigger epileptic attacks. There is the problem of ensuring the implant continues to function over time. And there is significant risk to patients if their BCI-enabled technology fails (as with a BCI wheelchair failing its user in crossing a street).
Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin recently utilized fMRI scans with AI tools to create a non-invasive BCI that was able to decode participants’ thoughts. Will such mind-reading technology one day enable advertisers to manipulate our minds? Will governments be able to use BCIs for surveillance or interrogations?
Autonomy: BCI devices could significantly enhance a disabled patient’s ability to function with dignity, but they might also affect a patient’s decision-making processes and result in inappropriate actions.
Justice: BCI devices need to be accessible without financial barriers and utilized in ways that do not provide their users with unfair advantages over others. Otherwise, they could become a type of “cyborg” used to enhance normal abilities—akin to earbuds with real-time translation capacities and bionic lenses that record video and exceed normal ocular abilities.
“The truest friend of the liberty of his country”
BCIs are in the early stages of development. This means it’s too soon to be alarmed, but it’s not too soon to take steps to ensure that such development proceeds in ethically appropriate ways.
Here’s the problem: we live in a “post-truth” culture that rejects objective morality, coupled with a capitalistic economy that privileges technological advancement for profit.
How confident are you that our secularized society will be able to harness the potential of BCIs while preventing the devastation they could one day wreak?
American founding father Samuel Adams warned:
Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.
“Nobody makes a greater mistake”
To promote our country’s “virtue,” let’s take four biblical steps today.
One: “Destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Think biblically so you can act redemptively.
Two: “Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Use your influence to declare and defend biblical truth and morality.
Three: “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT) with humble compassion as you help others experience God’s best.
Four: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Your kingdom assignment is not completed until you are in heaven.
The British statesman Edmund Burke noted:
“Nobody makes a greater mistake than he who does nothing because he could only do a little.”
What will you do today to embrace and advance biblical morality to the glory of God?
Image credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/baramee2554
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
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