They "could change us irrevocably."

Singular Concern

In an editorial that operates more as a stark warning than an explainer, a pair of philosophers sounded the alarm on the dystopian future they see being ushered in by brain-computer interface (BCI) technology.

Writing for The Conversation, University of New England philosophers Sandy Boucher and John Kendall Hawkins said that we're rapidly approaching what's known as "the singularity," in which the division between human and machine becomes obsolete — and BCIs are the "first step" on that path.

This theoretical moment "would mark the dawn of our inseparability from machines," the pair wrote. "From that moment on, we won’t be able to live without them without ceasing to function as human beings."

Mind Machine

While artificial intelligence invariably earns its fair share of singularity concerns, futurists are equally worried about BCI implants.

"BCIs are a natural beginning to the singularity in the eyes of many futurists," they wrote, "because they meld mind and machine in a way no other technology so far can."

Be it Elon Musk's Neuralink or the BCI startup Synchron, these technologies are poised to revolutionize the way people who suffer from paralysis and other debilitating illnesses are able to live. For instance, Syncron "has created a minimally invasive implant that allowed a patient with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to send emails and browse the internet using his thoughts," they added.

It Begins

As welcome as this kind of technological advancement is from a medical perspective, it also could "arguably be considered the first stages of a tumbling towards the postulated singularity, in which human and machine become one."

"This need not imply machines will become 'sentient' or control us," the philosophers wrote. "But the integration itself, and our ensuing dependency on it, could change us irrevocably."

Reaching singularity is, of course, a major concern for philosophers, futurists, and laypeople alike. But as Hawkins and Boucher note, the fact that we're not only going along with the industry's pace of advancement but in many cases welcoming it is definitely enough to give one pause.

More on the singularity: Startup Predicts Year That Technological Singularity Will Happen

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