The price of brain-computer fusion

  Recently, an animal rights group filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees laboratory animals, accusing Musk co-founded brain-computer interface company Neuralink and researchers at the University of California, Davis (Davis). Unlawful abuse of monkeys while testing brain implants subject them to ‘extreme distress’. The agency that filed the complaint was the American Society of Responsible Physicians. Between 2017 and 2020, Neural Chain and the University of Davis conducted experiments on 23 monkeys, and at least 15 of them died or were put to death as a result of the experiments, the association said.
  The news of the monkeys abused by the neural chain company once again raised the struggle for the purpose of scientific research and the struggle for the realization of the path. The dispute of purpose refers to whether the experiment with monkeys can realize brain-computer fusion and treat human diseases; the dispute of path refers to whether the experiment of piercing the skull with steel nails on monkeys is humane.
  According to the American Society of Responsible Physicians, there is currently public evidence that the monkeys used in the experiment were cruelly abused and killed. For example, a monkey who was pierced with a pin and implanted with electrodes developed a hemorrhagic skin infection and had to be euthanized without adequate medical attention; a female macaque vomited after the chip was implanted , retching, panting abnormally, appeared to collapse from exhaustion a few days later, and was then euthanized, and autopsy revealed that it had suffered a brain hemorrhage; some monkeys have undergone multiple surgeries, or are restrained in chairs for up to Chronic diarrhea, loss of appetite for 5 hours, or having been taking antidepressants before surgery.
  Whether it is scientific research or other work, in order to achieve the intended purpose, it must be achieved through the due process allowed by ethics. Otherwise, although the purpose is noble and beneficial to human beings, but the procedures and means are inappropriate, the purpose will lose its legitimacy and rationality. Now, the study of brain-computer fusion technology using animals for experiments involves this fundamental principle, that is, the use of animals for experiments should be in line with animal welfare. The main principles of the Federal Animal Welfare Act of the United States are that animals should eat well (physical welfare), sleep soundly (environmental welfare), be pain-free (hygienic welfare), free from restraint (psychological welfare) and worry-free (behavioral welfare). ). By contrast, the monkeys described above were clearly mistreated. It is unacceptable to obtain the initial results and success of brain-computer fusion in such a scientific way.
  Musk has previously explained why he is keen on the exploration of brain-computer interfaces. He believes that in order not to be eliminated by technological and social progress, human beings have only one choice-to become artificial intelligence (AI). He said: “We will either be eliminated by machines, or we will explore new ways to achieve symbiosis and integration with AI. There is no other way.” In Musk’s view, to achieve brain-computer fusion, chips must be implanted in the brain Combined with the AI ​​system, in addition to making humans more powerful, it can also help paralyzed patients and is also a means of treating diseases. In this light, this is a beautiful blueprint that is both inspiring and extremely versatile.
  However, the neural chain’s brain-computer interface is implantable, and the current experimental results have also proved that this approach is quite serious to monkeys. Therefore, to conduct brain-computer fusion experiments and eventually achieve brain-computer fusion, less harmful and more humane methods may be required. For example, using non-invasive brain-computer fusion, which means wearing an EEG scanner hat with multiple electrodes on the head of an animal or person, collecting and recording the weak bioelectric signals generated by the head, and then amplifying these electric signal. Subsequently, these electrical signals are uploaded to the AI ​​system, and the recorded “thinking signals” are converted into “actions” through advanced signal processing technology and machine learning algorithms.
  Non-invasive brain-computer interfaces are safer, but the collected brain bioelectrical signals are limited and less clear. Although the implanted brain-computer interface is not safe, it will obtain more and stronger brain signals, allowing AI systems to analyze and learn to understand and imitate human brain signals to direct human or machine actions.
  The more unpredictable danger of implanted brain-computer interfaces is how to draw a clear line between receiving brain signals and being safe. Initially, Neural Chain proposed to implant 200 chips into the brain to control and decipher the messages transmitted by hundreds of neurons. However, completed animal experiments have shown that this number of chips is not enough to decipher brain information, nor to let the brain merge with AI, so more chips must be implanted to control more neurons. This may cause severe and irreversible damage to the brain. Now, Neuralink’s experiments with monkeys causing serious harm to monkeys are a warning sign.
  The ethical requirement of reality is that even if the brain-computer interface is beneficial to human beings and the future society, it should choose a way to achieve the least damage to humans and animals. However, the American Association of Responsible Physicians’ allegations are only one-sided information, and Neural Chain and the University of Davis have responded.
  They issued a statement saying that the experiments with monkeys and other animals were in compliance with relevant federal laws, including those of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Every animal used for experiments is carefully reviewed to balance scientific needs with animal ethics. During the experiment, the researchers were humane to these monkeys. After the monkeys were transferred from the University of Davis to the Neural Chain Company, the managers improved their living standards in terms of care, diet, daily leisure, etc., and also exceeded the federal level. specified minimum standards. Neural Chain has also built a zoo of about 560 square meters to improve the quality of life of these animals. Animal experiments are also strictly regulated.
  The pivotal line in the Neural Chain and Davis statement is that “all new medical devices must be tested on animals before humans,” a rule that cannot be changed. Whether or not the monkeys mentioned above were mistreated may require more in-depth investigations to draw conclusions. Therefore, whether the brain-computer interface can continue to carry out experiments on animals and humans in an invasive way requires investigation by authoritative institutions, and more time and scientific evidence.
  How to use animals, especially primates, for scientific experiments, there are already clear 3R principles in the world, that is to replace other methods in animal experiments, reduce the number of experimental animals and improve animal welfare in the process of experimentation, referred to as substitution , reduction and optimization policies. If the complaint of the American Association of Responsible Physicians is accepted, it will also make all parties involved in animal experiments re-examine and review whether the 3R policy is suitable for the current scientific research status.
  Although brain-computer interface needs research, the purpose and path of research should be discussed and evaluated in depth, so that research is not only beneficial to human society, but also to animal welfare. In addition, there is another question worth thinking about. If brain-computer fusion is realized in the future, is this form of “new human” what human society needs?
  If the brain-computer interface is successful, who will be the controller? Is it the owner of the AI ​​system or the AI ​​system? Brain-computer interfaces may also generate new superhumans. Will human society be dominated by “superhumans” in the future, and will people without access to chips only accept the enslavement of “superhumans”? These doubts about brain-computer interface research are advanced, but they contain a reasonable element of planning ahead. At present, scientific ethical issues have arisen in the research process of brain-computer interfaces, and people have also cast serious doubts about the goals that such scientific research institutes are trying to achieve. However, some brain-computer interface studies have conducted experiments on patients with Parkinson’s disease and treatment-resistant depression. Although the electrical stimulation equipment used is invasive, it will not cause damage to the human brain. Perhaps the best use of brain-computer fusion is to treat diseases, and the combination of humans and AI may require more discussion and observation.