Post-human, core limit

As a pure natural person, “people will eventually be erased, just like a face on the sand on the seashore.” But changes are happening-emerging technologies have revealed a profound trend from conquering and transforming nature to writing “humanity” itself.

From the rapid development of biological gene technology and artificial intelligence, to scientists’ increasingly bold and frequent attempts to combine organic and inorganic bodies, to the cyberpunk world depicted in sci-fi works, their gorgeous imagination and full interpretation of the transformation of human beings remind We rethink the meaning of “people”.

Brain-computer interface technology can help overcome the damage caused by stroke and other diseases to the human body. Medical treatment and human recovery are still hot topics in the brain-computer field. In the future, will a “super brain” implanted with a chip be born, breaking the limit of human brain IQ?

On the road to “immortality”, telomerase repair, freezing technology, organ reconstruction, etc. have become milestones. After breakthroughs in 3D printing, induced pluripotent stem cells and other fields, the application of organ regeneration technology will enter an explosive period.

In addition, power exoskeleton products that can make paraplegics stand up again. When the human brain and sensors have made significant progress, supplemented by a more powerful power source, a practical version of “Iron Man” will be created; with automatic driving Overcoming technical difficulties, perhaps mankind does not have to accumulate 8 billion miles of road tests to usher in a comfortable moment to hand over the steering wheel with confidence.

Gou Rixin, every day, and every day. Before being in harmony with the “post-humans”, we can radiate more valuable cultural thinking from the perspective of fighting against technological nihilism.

In 1800, Alessandro Volt-the Italian physicist who invented the volt stack-led out the poles of a set of batteries and inserted them into his double external auditory canals. After the circuit was connected, the sound he heard was like “crackling with electric sparks”, and it was like “crumbling sound after thick soup boiled”. He felt that the sound was too scary, and he has never done a similar “human experiment” in the future.

However, it was this experiment that became the source of cochlear implant technology that later benefited hundreds of thousands of hearing impaired people. At the same time, this can be regarded as one of the earliest explorations of “brain-computer interface” by mankind, because the cochlear implant is currently one of the most widely used brain-computer interface technologies.

Implants in the body
Speaking of brain-computer interfaces, the first reaction of ordinary people may be the jack in the science fiction movie “The Matrix” that brings people into the virtual world, or the “incarnation” technology in “Avatar” that helps people with disabilities to remotely control cloned organisms. For visual effects, science fiction movies often design the brain-computer interface as a complex instrument. In real life, a small chip plus a simple external device can already be combined into a brain-computer interface.

Conceptually, the brain-computer interface is a real-time communication system that connects the brain and external devices. The system directly converts the information sent by the brain into commands that can drive external devices, and replaces human body or language organs, realizes communication between people and the outside world and control of the external environment, and finally realizes between people and computers or between people and the external environment Communication between.

According to different information reading methods, there are two main types of brain-computer interfaces: “invasive” and “non-invasive”. The invasive brain-computer interface requires surgical means to directly connect the reading device to the brain or nervous system; the non-invasive brain-computer interface does not need to open a wound on the human body, but uses an external device to collect EEG signals.

Just as Volt heard the “crack” and “grumbling” after both ears were energized, the brain-computer interface is closely related to the use of electrical energy, because the current can stimulate the brain and nervous system. In an invasive brain-computer interface, an object implanted in the human body has electrodes. In the non-invasive brain-computer interface, the user usually wears an EEG cap composed of multiple electrodes.

Cochlear implants can be roughly classified as a “semi-invasive brain-computer interface”. The reading device does not need to be implanted in the skull, but it still needs to be placed in the cochlea by a minimally invasive surgery. The implanted device includes a receiver, a decoder, and stimulation electrodes. The electrodes are used to stimulate the user’s auditory nerve which is still intact. After the auditory nerve is electrically stimulated, the ability to transmit auditory information is strengthened, so that the user’s brain can read relevant information, and ultimately restore a certain degree of hearing.

“The Matrix” stills

Cochlear implants also include external devices, which are generally composed of a directional microphone, a speech signal processor, and a transmitter. Since its development in the 1970s, cochlear implant technology has become increasingly mature, and the size of the external device is no different from that of ordinary hearing aids. So taking the cochlear implant as an example, the brain-computer interface is not necessarily a fancy instrument like the science fiction movie describes. Some companies are still studying cochlear implants without external devices, and the wearer is no different from ordinary people in appearance. This means that the brain-computer interface may operate in a “low-key” way that is fully implanted in the human body in the future.

Italian physicist Alessandro Volt

“Silicon Valley Iron Man” Musk targeted this. In August 2020, Neuralink, a company founded by Musk, showed off the brand new brain-computer interface device LINK V0.9. The device has a diameter of only 23 mm and can be installed at the top of the skull. The user can cover the device with his hair, making it a “modified person” that is not easy to be noticed. At the exhibition, Musk interacted with a piggy implanted with a device, and the computer successfully displayed the brain activity data of the piggy.

The Neural Connection Company hopes to use this technology to help paralyzed patients use brain commands to control smart devices, and to explore treatment options for diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, brain or spinal cord injury.

Treatment and reinforcement
In addition to medical goals, the Neural Connection Company has been aiming at the goal of “enhancing human brain function” since it was founded in 2017. Musk hopes that after the device chip is implanted, the human brain can directly read the information of the physical hardware. When some netizens asked whether the implantation of the device meant that the chip could be used to listen to music directly, Musk answered “yes” concisely. In addition, people who implant devices can also control Tesla with their minds in the future. Musk’s description is close to the “incarnation” effect in “Avatar”.

/ In the non-invasive brain-computer interface, the user usually wears an EEG cap composed of multiple electrodes. /

And the content of the brain-computer interface is precisely adapted to the short-term and long-term goals of the neural connection company-the recovery and strengthening of the human body.

Starting with cochlear hearing aids, medical treatment and human recovery have always been keywords in the field of brain-computer interface. Many diseases are related to the decline of the brain’s ability to manage the human body. For example, the healthy confidant of the elderly—stroke is essentially a brain ischemia that causes the death of brain cells, and then causes the limbs controlled by this part of the cell to be unable to move. In China, there are medical institutions such as Beijing Tiantan Hospital that are researching the use of brain-computer interface technology to treat stroke. The patient wears an EEG collector on the head, and sticks electrode pads on the limbs with movement disorders, and trains under the guidance of the virtual scene system. In this process, the EEG collector will collect signals, and after processing the signals, stimulate the nerves of the hindered limbs and drive the limbs to move.

Another treatment direction is to try to strengthen the effect of “motor imagination” therapy. Motor imagination is a stroke treatment program. The patient constantly imagines and simulates the movement of the hindered limbs in his mind, and activates the operation of related areas of the brain through continuous imaginative behavior. A study published by the University of Sapienza in Rome in 2015 showed that when using the “motor imagination” method to treat stroke patients, the rehabilitation of patients who were assisted by brain-computer interface treatment was better than that of patients who did not use brain-computer interface assistance. . In the study, when the patients with brain-computer interface assisted imagining the stretching activities of the fingers, the brain-computer interface device will receive the relevant EEG information and present the effect of the finger activity in the form of images. This seems to help establish a connection between “association” and “exercise effect”, which brings a certain therapeutic effect.

In addition to stroke, whether it is blindness, deafness, paralysis and other diseases related to the nervous system, or brain diseases such as epilepsy and depression, researchers have researched treatment options from the direction of brain-computer interface.

On August 28, 2020, in California, USA, Neuralink, a brain-computer interface company under Musk, held a press conference

Human body recovery is an important focus of the brain-computer interface at the moment, and human body strengthening is a future miracle that the brain-computer interface will challenge.

In October 2016, Swiss physicist Amine conducted a brain-computer interface test

Part of the program still originated from the need for treatment. For example, a major symptom of patients with frostbite disease is normal thinking but inability to communicate with each other. Two volunteer patients were recruited from the Vascular Bionic Laboratory of the University of Melbourne, Australia, and the brain-computer interface was implanted through a vein to connect their brains to the computer. After training, the two patients can chat at a speed of about 20 words per minute and complete online shopping and other actions.

In this case, the patient is equivalent to replacing human hands with brain commands to control the operation of the equipment. Obviously, according to this inference, as long as the thinking ability is normal, the person implanted with the brain-computer interface can also use the thinking to control the machine. If a person wears a specific device and can control the device at will as if he controls his body, then the device may improve the wearer’s various abilities through mechanical functions. A typical example is an exoskeleton, which has a certain power system function. After wearing an exoskeleton that supports a brain-computer interface, the wearer’s ability to run, jump, and lift will be greatly improved.

/ Human body recovery is an important focus of the brain-computer interface at the moment, and human body strengthening is a future miracle that the brain-computer interface will challenge. /

The brain-computer interface is more likely to directly stimulate the brain, so that the human brain can achieve greater potential and become a “super brain.” In the early brain-computer interface research, the brain-computer interface device was mainly “one-way”, that is, the device received brain information in one direction. And if the brain-computer interface achieves “two-way”, the brain and the device can transmit information to each other, and the brain will be able to quickly receive the content from the device. Due to the strong computing power of the equipment, humans are equivalent to one or more “AI brains”, and the efficiency of decision-making and thinking may be raised to a level that ordinary people can’t imagine.

Ethical controversy
The brain-computer interface described in the science fiction movie “Upgrade” is a two-way product. After the protagonist’s brain is implanted with an artificial intelligence chip, there is an extra “voice” in his brain. Under his authorization, the chip can control his physical actions. In this process, “authorization” is the brain transmitting information to the device, and “controlling the body” is the device transmitting information to the brain.

In the science fiction movie “Upgrade”, Gray’s body is implanted with the artificial intelligence program STEM

And this two-way communication just reflects a big ethical controversy in brain-computer interface technology: if someone can evolve into a “super brain” through the brain-computer interface, will the human group split? Those who have the ability to transform the brain-computer interface can create more tools and wealth with a stronger brain, thereby occupying better resources; those who are not able to transform, their intelligence is far behind the transformers, and cannot compete with them in the long run , To become a controlled “future barbarian”.

In 2017, the “Nature” magazine published an article discussing the “Four Priority Ethical Topics” of brain-computer interfaces and artificial intelligence, which involved similar scenarios. The third controversy mentioned in the article is “human body enhancement”, pointing out that brain-computer interface technology enhances human body functions, and if abused in the military field, it will bring great harm. The article “strongly recommends” strict control over the use of neurotechnology in the military.

The other ethical issues mentioned in the article are first of all “privacy and the right to know.” At present, all kinds of brain-computer interface research need to analyze the brain activity information of the research object. If the brain-computer interface is promoted in the future, the amount of relevant information will be greater. If such information is misused, it will pose a threat to the privacy of users. At the same time, the article is also worried that when the brain-computer interface directly exposes user information on the Internet, malicious information acquirers will begin to use the information to influence the user’s thinking.

/ In 2017, the “Nature” magazine article “strongly recommended” strict control of the use of neurotechnology in the military. /

The second point of contention is “motivation and identity recognition”. Since the brain-computer interface interferes with brain activity, the effect of the intervention may appear in a negative form. In 2016, a man who started using brain implants to treat depression 7 years ago said that he felt that some inappropriate ways of communicating with others seemed to be caused by the implant, suggesting that the brain-computer interface affected him. The brain judges. The bigger concern is that the brain-computer interface, like the chip in “Upgrade”, creates a “new personality” for the user.

The fourth point of contention is “bias.” This angle of thinking is mainly oriented towards artificial intelligence and has relatively little relationship with the brain-computer interface, so I won’t repeat it here.

In addition to the four points mentioned in the “Nature” article, common ethical issues with brain-computer interfaces include safety, accident responsibility, and personal will. Safety is mainly related to craniotomy, including the risks of surgery and the rejection of implants with the human body. Accident liability is an extension of safety issues. If an accident occurs after implantation of a brain-computer interface, whether the accident should be recovered from the implant equipment manufacturer, implant operator, or the individual bears the relevant risks, which may become confused. The ethical issues of personal will focus on some scenes that implanters cannot express personally. For example, they want to conduct brain-computer interface experiments on paralyzed persons who have lost language ability, but cannot obtain the true wishes of the patients. At this time, who can decide to allow the experiment on its behalf becomes a big question.

However, compared with cutting-edge technologies such as cloning and genetic modification, the ethical issues of brain-computer interfaces are relatively lowly valued. Perhaps this is because the current mainstream research on brain-computer interfaces still focuses on “saving the dead and healing the wounded.” When brain-computer interfaces have the opportunity to help people suffering from brain or neurological diseases return to their normal lives, the simple idea that technology will benefit mankind may overwhelm “technological phobia.”