Brain to Brain

Brain to brain technology (B2B), is an emerging field with the idea that in the future, humans will be able to connect their brains to those of the people around them in order to communicate more effectively – similarly to the way computers do at the moment. However, many ethical issues arise given the nature of this technology in regards to areas such as personal individuality, privacy, consent, and the responsibility of one’s actions.

Responsibility and Humanity

With the technology of brain-to-brain interface being developed, people could gain the ability to control the actions of others by simply connecting our brain with someone else. It is possible that we could operate their brain in a similar way to our own, thus being able to control them remotely. This kind of technology could be beneficial to the disabled, as it has been suggested that it would aid people that have been paralysed regain motor function, or could help the blind see the world again as visual data could be sent directly into their brain. As such a utilitarian approach is applicable as the technology has the potential to improve the lives of the majority of the population, even if there are some negative considerations. For example, it may result in deplorable consequences if one person is totally controlled by another. It is possible that they may commit a crime without realising it was not of their own volition, resulting in the prosecution of the person who committed the act instead of the actual criminal who commanded it, since there would be no evidence that would suggest they had not been acting of their own accord.

Another aspect of B2B technology is that it could theoretically bring humanity closer than it has ever been, in addition to creating the possibility for true inter-species communication. This generates numerous scientific possibilities, but it could also lead to a loss of appreciation towards our environment, where so much of your time is taken up inside an individual’s own head that it could be a struggle to function outside of it. Some companies, such as the 2045 Strategic Social Initiative, plan to take the technology significantly further in the future, with the end goal being to live as a ‘hologram-like avatar’ in a virtual community by 2045. This would mean that there would no longer be any use for an organic body, with a person’s consciousness downloaded into an artificial brain, effectively having reached cyber-immortality. This step in evolution goes against nature, as one of the driving forces in life is the event of our deaths and time running out, it is not clear what the disregard of mortality will do to the human experience, nor can it be theorised accurately. Throughout all of history the idea of attaining immortality has been the pinnacle of human achievement, so many would argue that if this was possible, then it is our responsibility to see it through for the sake of the generations beforehand that did not have this opportunity. However it can also be argued that immortality is the spawn of the egotistical nature of humans and may very well be our downfall and as our universe is governed by unwritten laws that everything has a beginning and an end, then why should we deprive ourselves of the venture of death?

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Privacy and Personal Identity

The idea of a complete conjugation of your thoughts, emotions, and opinions with another person comes parallel with the loss of your own individuality. As every person has experienced a different set of events, consequently, each one of us will have a different set of ideas and opinions. These generate that feeling of uniqueness which we are familiar with throughout our lifetime. Losing that feeling might result in an unknown psychological phenomenon never formerly considered. Ownership of genuine ideas is another area of consideration. Where, for example, if one person comes up with an idea where it is immediately transferred to another person’s brain; who owns that idea? Who has the right to gain financial or social profit from the idea? On the other hand, having more than one brain concentrating on a specific set of ideas may enhance them, making brainstorming much more efficient and successful, in addition to negating communication barriers such as language. For instance, in engineering, group work is the main system in use for providing services and products in real world situations. The trade-offs between personal identity and the advantages of community thought have to be carefully evaluated when B2B technology advances, with the ethical considerations behind how personal data is protected in an environment where everything is geared towards global communication. This is particularly prevalent given the possible economic benefits of such a system which will drive the technology forward without much regard to possible side effects, in an attempt to get the products on the market as soon as possible.

B2B technology also has major implications regarding privacy and consent. In the event of individuals or corporations being able to send or receive data from a variety of sources without necessarily knowing that the data has been exchanged, rather than being an individual thought; it could breach many ethical codes. For example, a recent experiment allowed one person to control the muscle movements of another without the recipient being aware they were being controlled by another person, they were only aware of their hand moving. This could be applied to advertising, a company could trigger a thought or stimulus making a consumer think about, or subconsciously want, a specific product. As such, there would need to be a strict consent system that would prevent individuals from receiving information without the knowledge that it was being sent from an outside source. However, such issues arose when computer technology was being improved with the invention of the internet, and for the vast majority of users, the current system of consent with regard to the sharing of information is acceptable.

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11 thoughts on “Brain to Brain

  1. I am studying biomedical science and would be interested to know the biological impacts of such brain stimulation and whether these have clinical applications outside of brain to brain communication

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    1. Firstly, there is no actual reference on how this technology might affect the human brain. Having said that, the brain would most certainly experience an “upgrade” and whether it will be able to preserve its sanity is yet to be proven. So far, only minimal contacts have been performed, but once the entire being of a person can be transferred, we could experience an overload and the brain could potentially shut down. This will; most probably, not be the case because the development of such a technology will be a progressive one, and the brain should have enough time to accustom itself to its newfound boundaries and data-download capabilities.

      Some speculate that these interfaces may be able to help people with disabilities; such as paralysis, to regain a certain amount of control over their bodies. If this is not possible, brain to computer interfaces will certainly abate this issue. What is certain is that communication would not be restricted to speech; whether this is by means of speaking aloud or by sign language, it would be taken to a whole new level, where you would still be able to communicate with a person even if they were asleep or in a coma.

      I hope that this helped, and that it was somewhat what you were inquiring about.
      Best regards,
      Jon Becerra Booth

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  2. Great post! The point you raise about who owns the ideas is particularly interesting from a legal perspective – especially with regard to intellectual property rights and the idea of property law, as currently in the U.K. you cannot have ownership over your own / another body, so you do not own your brain… so the question arises of how this transfer of ideas could be safely regulated. My concern regarding this potential advancement would be that it could be used for interrogation purposes / ideas could be taken by force.

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  3. Excellent article! As sci-fi as it sounds, intrigued by this article, I have since found out that these brain to brain ideas have been around since the 1970s!! And whether we like it or not, it is apparently already a reality, albeit a lab one (Harvard research with humans controlling a rat’s tail in 2013!) So it is essential that there is a debate and then legislation on the implications of this.

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  4. GREAT DEBATE TOPIC, B2B! Computers already improve some of the functions of our brain. The ability to store information or “mathematical” process is a fact. Another thing is when we talk about intelligence and even more complex emotional intelligence. These issues are closely related to our own personal experiences that form synapses in our neurons uniting and relating all the information and capabilities to define an attitude, conduct or behavior, often unpredictable. In my opinion, the synapses will not be “exportable.” B2M “brain to machine” is more delicate. I imagine supercomputers that can store and process knowledge received from our brain. I recommend film Transcendence (2014).

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  5. Phew. I find this all a tad too scary, albeit very interesting. As someone above commented, the possibilities for interrogation spring to mind. Then the implications for the way we may (or may not) interact with the environment around us. But the positive applications are exciting – eg, locked brain syndrome, or for those in comas. I’d be curious to read the results of this study.

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  6. Wow! So many potential advantages of this technology, though the misuse of it is scary! So what’s the range of it? For globalised companies would a UK office be able to contact an office in another country to work on the same project? But how would you ensure that the connection was secure and private?

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  7. I had never considered this concept before, let alone been aware that it’s not so far from becoming a reality. It is easy to see how the implementation of this idea could be quite controversial, given the significant benefits and potential issues. Thinking about how it would affect us on a day to day basis: would people have arguments? How would disagreements come about if it was easier to see things from another perspective, not to mention being able to influence each other’s thoughts? And, on a larger scale, how could this affect world conflict?

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  8. Provided that the different layouts of individual brains are even remotely compatible, how would a scientist connect with a humanities student or a music maestro. Evidence suggests their brains developed in different ways. How would brain disorders affect this, autism or down syndrome?

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  9. This topic raises an interesting question around social interaction- without privacy during communication the social constructs that govern human interaction, team work and relationships in general, would fall apart. The inability to lie or simply to present a thought or argument in a diplomatic manner would disable the way we communicate now. With no filter before others hear our thoughts, rather than B2B brining people closer together, it may actually damage relationships. The entire basis on which human interaction is founded would have to be rewritten.

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