Neurotechnologies boosted with artificial intelligence threaten mental secrecy

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Written by Doug Hampton

(AFP) – The combination of dazzling advances in neurotechnology, such as brain implants, and artificial intelligence poses a threat to the mental secrecy of individuals, warned Unesco on Thursday.

The UN agency for science and culture is working on a global “ethical framework” concerning the protection of human rights in the face of neurotechnologies, it announced during a conference on the subject at its headquarters in Paris.

Neurotechnology aims to connect electronic devices to the nervous system in order to treat neurological conditions and restore functions related to movement, communication, vision or hearing.

This discipline has recently benefited from advances in artificial intelligence (AI), whose algorithms can process data in unprecedented ways, explained Mariagrazia Squicciarini, economist at Unesco specializing in AI.

For Gabriela Ramos, the agency’s Deputy Director General for Social and Human Sciences, this convergence is “wide-ranging and potentially damaging”.

“We are on a path where algorithms will allow us to decode people’s mental processes and directly manipulate the brain mechanisms underlying their intentions, emotions and decisions,” she told the conference.

Last May, American scientists reported the development of a “language decoder” that translates a person’s thoughts into writing, after training the brain for long hours in an MRI (resonance imaging magnetic).

Also in May, Neuralink, the company of billionaire Elon Musk, received authorization in the United States to test its brain implants, which are the size of a coin, on humans.

Mr Musk, who says his ultimate goal is to ensure that humans are not dominated by AI, launched his own artificial intelligence company, xAI, on Wednesday.

Ms Squicciarini insisted that neurotechnology was not inherently bad. As evidenced by the efforts to allow a partially sighted person to see again, or a paralyzed lower limb to walk. But this progress must be accompanied by ethical safeguards.

Investments in neurotechnology companies have multiplied by 22 between 2010 and 2020, reaching 33.2 billion dollars (29.73 billion euros), according to a UNESCO report co-signed by Ms. Squicciarini.

The number of patents concerning neurotechnological devices doubled between 2015 and 2020. This market is expected to reach 24.2 billion dollars (21.67 billion euros) in 2027.

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