What If Human Brains Had AI Implants? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Noah Baum WRITTEN BY: Kuil Schoneveld
Artificial intelligence; it's everywhere! Our homes, our cars, our schools and work. So where, if ever, does it stop? And how close to ourselves can our devices reasonably get? For this video, Unveiled uncovers plans to use human brain implants to improve the performance of our brains! What do you think? Are neural implants a good thing, or a bad thing?

What if Human Brains Had AI Implants?

Artificial intelligence; it’s everywhere! Our homes, our cars, our schools and places of work. It’s at the tips of our fingers, it’s in front of our eyes and it’s wearable. So where, if ever, does it stop? How close to ourselves can our devices reasonably get?

This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; What if human brains had AI implants?

First things first, AI is useful. It’s good at recognizing patterns in data, sorting complex information and reaching intelligent conclusions. It helps us to search files faster, interpret multiple languages, and execute our daily lives as efficiently as possible. Nowadays, it’s increasingly able to replicate high level cognitive tasks, the like of which we once thought that only humans could manage. And, as we learn more and more about exactly how our brains work - that is, our organic, biological brains - there are efforts to try and enhance them using artificial intelligence; to improve things like our memory, reaction times, and even our moods. But, how’s it possible?

Various companies are now developing devices that use machine learning software to analyse brain data, with widely used brain-computer-interfaces being an end goal for brands like Dreem, Thync, and Elon Musk’s Neuralink. Those all have significant funds behind them, while tech companies like Facebook have also taken up on the trend, and even the United States military is researching into it.

The plans and methods differ from company to company and project to project, but proposed implants all share a common feature at their heart; a means of reading brain data, analysing its patterns, and using that information to generate signals of its own - to bolster our “traditional” brain activity. From the outset, though, there are concerns… mostly surrounding the invasive measures such a device would have to take, as well as the potential for security breaches, effective brain hacks, and the possibility that intelligent enough implants could one day simply override our standard, human brain activity. According to those against them, this isn’t a stereotypical sci-fi world where it’s us against the robots; it’s one where we are the robots!

Perhaps surprisingly, neural implants have been studied - to a limited extent - since around 1970, when they were used to trigger involuntary movements in insects. Fifty years later, though, and it’s not all doom and gloom. In general, the development of brain implants has been done with positive applications in mind. It’s hoped that the tech could help toward the treatment of degenerative neurological diseases and the prevention of foreseeable brain damage. It’s said that implants could one day target ultra-specific areas of the brain, meaning they might be able to administer medicines or carry out checks to drastically reduce the severity of diseases like ALS, MS, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. In some cases, implants have already been given to patients with these conditions - and with positive results. Continued improvement as a healthcare aid, then, and neural implants will surely be hailed a success! But what if they were then used for more?

Beyond battling illness, in a not-so-far-future time implants could also work to optimize healthy brains… particularly regarding the longevity and clarity of our memories. An effective “memory chip” inside our heads would theoretically mean we’d have access to anything we’d need whenever we wanted it. Anything we’d learnt at school; the instructions to set-up anything in our homes; the directions to any place we’d wish to go - it could no longer fall victim to just “being forgotten” and would simply “be there” when required. The same principles would work for our general mindfulness and even stress levels; there’d be zero need to meditate, count backwards from ten or even take a deep breath if ever we felt irritated because we’d now be able to effectively buy a product - an implant - to manage all of that stuff for us.

As with most of everything else about neural chips, however, on the one hand it sounds like bliss, on the other it’s potentially very problematic. Because we’d no longer need to study or even pay attention to how we feel, we could wind up becoming complacent, lazy and even neglecting our own emotions. In the worst-case scenario, we’d be gradually surrendering our self-control to a machine that does it all for us. It is a worst-case scenario, but it’s not a happy thought!

Should neural implants ever become a standard or even commercial bit of user tech - used for more than medical purposes - there’s arguably a wider effect on society to consider. Yes, people could wind up living longer and being healthier because of implants, but we could also become wholly reliant on them. Which means that any one person or company charged with building, maintaining or updating them suddenly has a lot of power! Conspiracy theorists often talk of high-profile and influential figures “brainwashing” the masses, but in this case - were implants widespread - it could be more like brain-building. For those against them, it’s not quite mind control, but a big step towards it!

Feed the tech into militaries around the world, and we’d potentially be witness to the rise of the real-life “super soldier” - where governments can set and implant into their armies anything they wished to improve on; a standard “shots per minute” reaction rate, perhaps… or a higher degree of ruthlessness in the battle. Again, when it’s pushed far enough, it’s a moral, ethical and practical dilemma. One side says that soldiers would be better equipped than ever before; the other argues that purpose-built implants could dehumanise them.

Elsewhere, sports could change completely, with chips built to help athletes cope with pressure, the highs and lows of competition and maybe even fatigue. eSports gamers might have enhanced reaction times, too, while video games in general would now be a wholly immersive experience, even more so than they already are, with options for our actual brains to be hooked into the consoles. Were neural implants to be widely implemented, then we could all find ourselves specifically enhanced for our particular jobs, roles and careers. Our senses tweaked; our sleep patterns managed; our ideas organized. In fact, as arguably the “ultimate device”, brain implants could even render most other gadgets pointless. We wouldn’t need smartphones to check social media if our brain chips were connected to the internet; or tablets to check emails when they’re all safely stored in our heads; or smart watches to remind us of anything because we’d be in no danger of forgetting it in the first place. Throw all of our collective implant data into some kind of cloud set-up and we’d have a “hive mind” in the truest sense.

For some, we’d be well on our way to perfection. Our brains are already amazing structures, but now they’d be even more so. For others, though, we’d be well on our way to destruction - or at least to mind-numbing blandness. We’d all be good - even great - at what we do, but potentially at the expense of our beliefs, personalities and originality. And, with just one breach or glitch of the system, we’d all be open to some serious data hacks - where even our individual thoughts are up for grabs! Even today, when a global roll-out of implants is still a thought experiment only, there are efforts to update our understanding of human rights so that they include guidelines on the ownership of our own minds… And it’s perhaps not difficult to see why!

The fear is that if every brain was fitted with an implant, then we could end up losing our ability to choose the way we want to live; our chance to individually make decisions; and, over time, our grip on our own free will. And so, were they to be something we’d choose to have (rather than compulsory as part of a totalitarian dystopia), then we’d surely see plenty of people (perhaps the majority of people) refusing them. A standard, biological brain would now be out-dated and out-performed by any sporting an implant. But some would struggle to balance the positives with the negatives.

Clearly, as a pioneering healthcare device only, there are few things more exciting, innovative or promising in modern science… but there are question marks, too. These tiny devices built into our bodies would be at the heart of ethical debate for centuries… and that’s what would happen if human brains had AI implants.