The brain-computer interface is everywhere these days, it seems. Whether in this article on Wired or this one in the UK’s Express, EMPATHY-like technology is either hailed as a proud leap forward or denigrated as a threat to that which makes us human.
In the Wired article above, for example, Taryn Southern argues—
“There seemed to be this disconnect between the dystopian ideas that we see in those shows and what was actually happening in the real world.”
– Taryn Southern, co-director of I Am Human
There’s certainly something to Taryn’s observation. Since the advent of science fiction with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the genre has had a penchant for emphasizing cautionary tales about humans’ unending curiosity and the technology we create as a result.
I myself have written fiction meant to give readers pause about the rise of technology that blurs the line between humankind and its machines, which the article from the Express above echoes with its melodramatic title: “Neuralink WARNING.” Despite the flags of alarm it raises, my series will, in the long run, demonstrate the good that can come from EMPATHY as well.
With all of the sensationalism surrounding the topic in every direction, one can’t help but wonder—what keeps both the techno-optimist and doomsday scenarios from becoming true to some extent?
In all likelihood, the emergence of brain-computer interface technology will resemble that of the internet itself, which has proven to be one of society’s greatest treasures and its greatest trials.
In any event, what often stands out about reporting on this topic is that both the “hero narrative” and the “hysteria narrative” fail to offer suggestions for what might be done to ensure the technology’s development follows the noble path, or that risks associated with it are mitigated before they’re given the chance to fester.
Harrowing, haunting, or somewhere in between, the brain-computer interface is on the horizon. Rather than prognosticate on its arrival, I recommend a collective effort be made to discuss what we might do to ensure this technology is both safe and accessible, something I, again, have written about in some detail in the past.
Unless we advocate for a proactive approach to the integration of this technology, EMPATHY-like advancements will help some of those who need it most, yes, but it will crucially only benefit a subset of the population that can pay for it.
This dynamic, if left unchecked, will only further exacerbate socioeconomic disparities at a time when income inequality is already on the rise. Is allowing that to happen something we can really afford?
Were it the case that we inhabited a society with a functioning government responsive to those it serves, I would encourage readers to contact their representatives to have them ask accessibility advocates and brain-computer interface experts to testify about what might be done to work toward a public-private partnership in advance of the technology’s widespread availability.
Until we return to such a time, however, it might be prudent to at least continue the discussion among ourselves.
So what do you think about the brain-computer interface? Will it destroy or delight? Uplift or upend? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
If you’d like to read more about the brain-computer interface and how it appears in the EMPATHY series to date, you can find links to book one and book two in the series below.