"We are on a path to a world in which algorithms will enable us to decode people's mental processes."
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has sounded the alarm bell on neurotechnology, warning that its "warp speed" advancement, catalyzed by artificial intelligence, poses a threat to human rights and mental privacy, Agence France-Presse reports.
In response, UNESCO will develop an "ethical framework" to address the potential human rights concerns raised by neurotech, it said at an international conference in Paris on Thursday.
"We are on a path to a world in which algorithms will enable us to decode people's mental processes and directly manipulate the brain mechanisms underlying their intentions, emotions and decisions," Gabriela Ramos, UNESCO assistant director-general social and human sciences, said at the event.
Roughly speaking, neurotech describes electronic devices that connect with your brain or nervous system, such as brain computer interfaces, also known as brain implants, and brain scans.
But recent advancements have given experts pause over its potential invasiveness. One study with decidedly dystopian implications was able to successfully pair the use of a large language model AI with a functional MRI brain scan to literally read people's thoughts and spell them out in words.
It's still early days for the field, but these advances wouldn't be possible without AI, which can be used to help process brain data at astonishing rates — and that has experts worried that we could be on the precipice of grim new privacy concerns.
"It's like putting neurotech on steroids," Mariagrazia Squicciarini, a UNESCO economist specializing in AI, told AFP.
The enormous amounts of capital being pumped into the neurotech industry should also be cause for concern, not too dissimilar to how breathless AI hype has seen the tech run amok. Money talks, and it usually doesn't have the average person's best interests in mind.
Between 2010 and 2020, investment in neurotechnology companies soared to over $33 billion, according to a new UNESCO report coauthored by Squicciarini — a 22-fold increase. Meanwhile, the number of neurotech patents has doubled in half that time period.
Among many companies spearheading that charge is Elon Musk's Neuralink, which recently received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to test its brain implants in humans, and is now backed up by Musk's recently launched AI firm, xAI.
UNESCO representatives say neurotech isn't all bad, however — though there's a clear dearth of future-proofed regulation.
More on neurotech: Companies Already Investing in Tech to Scan Employees’ Brains
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