Nature: decision-making devices into human brains

Nature (July 24, 2019):

The ethics of brain–computer interfaces

“Recording electrodes — such as those that warned Patient 6 of impending seizures — track brain activity to determine when symptoms are happening or are about to occur. Rather than merely alerting the user to the need to take action, they trigger a stimulating electrode to nullify this activity. If a seizure is probable, DBS quietens the causative activity; if tremor-related activity increases, DBS suppresses the underlying cause. Such a closed-loop system was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for epilepsy in 2013, and such systems for Parkinson’s disease are edging closer to the clinic.”

“For neuroethicists, one concern is that inserting a decision-making device into someone’s brain raises questions about whether that person remains self-governing, especially when these closed-loop systems increasingly use AI software that autonomously adapts its operations. In the case of a device for monitoring blood glucose that automatically controls insulin release to treat diabetes, such decision-making on behalf of a patient is uncontroversial. But well-intentioned interventions in the brain might not always be welcome. For instance, a person who uses a closed-loop system to manage a mood disorder could find themselves unable to have a negative emotional experience, even in a situation in which it would be considered normal, such as a funeral. “If you have a device that constantly steps up in your thinking or decision-making,” says Gilbert, “it might compromise you as an agent.””

“The epilepsy-management device used by Patient 6 and the other recipients that Gilbert interviewed was designed to keep patients in control by sounding a warning about impending seizures, which enabled the patient to choose whether to take medication.”

“Despite this, for five of the six recipients, the device became a major decision-maker in their lives. One of the six typically ignored the device. Patient 6 came to accept it as an integral part of their new self, whereas three recipients, without feeling that their sense of self had been fundamentally shifted, were happy to rely on the system. However, another was plunged into depression, and reported that the BCI device “made me feel I had no control”.”

““You have the ultimate decision,” Gilbert says, “but as soon as you realize the device is more effective in the specific context, you won’t even listen to your own judgement. You’ll rely on the device.”” (…)

“Gilbert’s continuing work on the psychological effects of BCI devices highlights the stakes that are involved in companies developing technologies that can profoundly shape a person’s life. He is now preparing a follow-up report on Patient 6. The company that implanted the device in her brain to help free her from seizures went bankrupt. The device had to be removed.”

““She refused and resisted as long as she could,” says Gilbert, but ultimately it had to go. It’s a fate that has befallen participants of similar trials, including people whose depression had been relieved by DBS. Patient 6 cried as she told Gilbert about losing the device. She grieved its loss. “I lost myself,” she said.”

““It was more than a device,” Gilbert says. “The company owned the existence of this new person.””

Supporters of transhumanism will say that Western governments can regulate BCIs in a way that’s morally acceptable, but how can you trust neoliberal CorpStates, i.e. surveillance regimes with a revolving door between corporations and governments, when you watch this talk with Theresa Fallon:

The German Growth Strategy is Based on China

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