The recent news story of French man, Thibault, being able to walk again after an accident that left him paralysed is both astonishing and somewhat disconcerting. A paralysed man is able to once again take control of his limbs by harnessing a 65kg robotic exoskeleton that he controls using his mind.
Two implants were surgically placed onto his brain, covering the areas that control movement. Each implant holds 64 electrodes which can read the neural activity and transmit the signal to a computer, which using complex software is able to convert the brainwaves into instructions for the exoskeleton.
The technology is still in its infancy and currently running at a low level to limitations in data processing in real time. In order to advance the technology AI will more than likely be taken advantage of. This application of human hardware technology is life-changing for those with physical difficulties however some are concerned that it could be taken a step too far in order to enhance human capabilities in other areas such as military. This field of research whereby medicine, science and technology combine to provide both mental and physical human enhancement is referred to as “transhumanism”.
American company, Neuralink, founded by Elon Musk in 2016 is dedicated to developing such technologies. Its most well-known concept is the N1 microchip implant that sits behind the ear with electrodes that fan out across the human brain. Human trials are beginning as early as 2020. Much like with the previous discussed technology, the motivations are at first to solve medical issues such as brain disorders like Parkinson’s and expanding the abilities of robotic prosthetics, however Elon Musk has admitted to wanting to expand the technology in order to create a symbiosis between human consciousness and artificial intelligence.
This is where for many people “transhumanism” draws the line as the projection of technology seems to take us into an episode of Black Mirror. What are the moral and ethical implications of a super-solider iron-man character used in the military? and what would happen if the technology fell into the wrong hands? The invasion of privacy and personal information has already been exposed in the social media world, but is there a risk of a new threat if such technologies are used in a more intrusive way to read and understand human thoughts? Possibly the most frightening aspect is whether there is a risk that the lines between human and robot are blurred.