Ethics committee debates Deus-Ex style augmentations

An ethics committee has launched a consultation into the use of brain computer interfaces, raising concerns over the potential of future military applications.

Advances in medical science have opened up the, at times astounding, possibilities of direct interaction between brain waves and electrical equipment. This has profound meaning for a wide variety of conditions such as Parkinson’s, or for allowing patients with full body paralysis to communicate directly via their thoughts. It could, for example, allow a wheel chair user to travel without moving their limbs, and communicate directly from brain impulses.

The technology brings with it exciting possibilities, however, there are also fears about the potential uses that, up until recently, seemed the mainstay of science fiction.

Now, with the line blurring between human and machine, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics has begun a consultation to get views on the potential risks of ongoing research.

Like most nascent technologies there are likely to be military applications, and the consultation wonders how these might work in practice.

The consultation highlights the possibility of using BCIs for the “modification and/or optimisation of combat performance” to bring about “superhuman strength” through augmentation of muscle strength.  Silent battlefield communication could be possible by literally communicating through the power of thought.

What appears to be troubling scientists the most though is the ethics of the ability to control vehicles and machinery from a distance using BCIs.  For example, one researcher highlights questions about the lack of responsibility connected with controlling aircraft or weaponry remotely, through the power of thought.

On a lighter note, there are fascinating implications for the interfaces to be used in gaming, with a direct connection between your brain and a console putting the latest in movement sensors to shame. Which companies we would trust with an intimate connection to our brains is a different question.

With reserach continuing in universities, as well as commerically and in military applications, we can be sure to see some fascinating developments in the future.