Technological power in today’s world is too concentrated

You don’t have to be a Luddite to have a serious misconception about brain implants. There are certainly beneficial uses, but once BCIs are commercialized, we can neither predict nor control their ultimate use. We risk changing what it means to be human quickly and rashly. Social media networks have profoundly changed human society only through indirect interfaces with the human brain. We are still discovering how ubiquitous information networks affect human cognition, but we already know enough about its impact on rational thought and collective opinion formation.

Therefore, there is good reason to be extremely cautious and thoughtful about the adoption of brain implant technology. But when you realize that the likes of Elon Musk now control its direction, with the deeply polarized U.S. regulatory regime as the sole gatekeeper, you need more than worry. Musk’s whimsical, erratic and erratic decisions on Twitter should lead regulators and policymakers to be wary of allowing Neuralink, the brain-implant technology company he owns, to develop the technology further, let alone push it toward market. However, US regulators can only assess the technical and ethical aspects of Neuralink’s technology. They have neither the mandate nor the ability to assess the risk of such a critical technology in the hands of a businessman like Musk.

The company is now reportedly facing an investigation into alleged unethical practices related to animal testing. If these allegations have any truth, they are far more dangerous than cruelty and killing of animals. Lack of scruples is often a substitute, and a corporate culture that is unethical to animals probably isn’t very committed to being ethical to humans either. I’m not singling out one company, but highlighting the societal risks posed by the brain implant business.

Now, there are certainly legitimate reasons for using brain implants strictly for medical purposes, such as pacemakers, hearing aids, and prosthetics. The problem is that the lines between therapy and beauty, instrumentation, entertainment and enhancement are blurred. Implants are also hackable. Commercial incentives will push brain implant technology into more lucrative non-therapeutic areas. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it’s impossible to put it back.

Despite Musk’s headline-grabbing timeline on social media, the brain implant technology itself is still a few years away. But even a few years is too soon for a world of disorder, political polarization and regulators struggling to keep up with technology. There are few global technology policy coordination mechanisms, and conflict between the U.S. and China spurs lone action rather than cooperation. Polarized politics has turned many policy issues into ideological ones, making it harder to find pragmatic solutions.

Regulators around the world are being asked to take policy positions on entirely new types of issues and to employ existing tools such as antitrust and consumer protection laws designed for the industrial age.

Many technologies, such as brain implants, gene editing, artificial intelligence tools that can generate deepfakes, or spacecraft that mine celestial bodies, affect all human beings, but given the specific historical circumstances, are influenced by American entrepreneurs and are subject to American laws Jurisdiction. It’s fair to say it’s always been that way. But the difference is that the world wasn’t always like this. Interconnectivity is different. The apps available to me and the features they have are controlled by the management of several large US companies, which in turn are subject to US law. I have no say in this, even nominally, other than choosing not to use the technology. It’s not easy because you need these apps to perform the most basic functions in your daily life.

While state regulators and lawmakers have stepped in, they are mostly reacting to developments. This means their responses will be reflexive and in line with their political and regulatory culture. As a result, governments will demand increased controls through localization or surveillance requirements, or, at the other extreme, simply ban technologies that they do not have sufficient control over.

From ChatGPT to cyber warfare, from brain implants to space exploration, we need a collective approach to technological governance. A small number of powerful individuals, large corporations or large nations should not be allowed to have unrestricted influence over the future of humanity.

At the dawn of the Industrial Age, visionary leaders drafted constitutions to prevent the concentration of power in one hand and to enforce democratic accountability in the way community affairs were run. We need to consider a similar order for the information age. Hopefully without the help of a brain implant.

Nitin Pai is co-founder and director of The Takshashila Institution, an independent public policy research and education center

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