Human Computer Interfaces

As many of you reading this will know, we are involved in the field of Artificial Intelligence, ‘augmented intelligence,’ to be precise, through our app, Clever Nelly. Put simply, Nelly augments human performance shortcomings, namely the deficiencies in how the brain learns and in doing so, improves the performance of the employee. While Clever Nelly’s augmented intelligence enables people and organisations to do things they otherwise would be unable to, she doesn’t actually physically interact with the brain or connect with it in any way, wirelessly or otherwise.

One of my pet hates is all the hype being written about autonomous intelligence—namely machines that can act on their own, such as autonomous war robots and the issue of singularity—a tipping point where machine intelligence will be infinitely more powerful than all human intelligence combined. If I believed everything I read in the Daily Mail or online, I would be living in a bunker at the bottom of my garden, hoarding food and water for the impending apocalypse where human-killing robots destroy mankind!

Right now, the technology does not exist for us to create truly autonomous thinking robots, but experts in Silicon Valley such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates as well as scientists such as Professor Stephen Hawking are firm in their belief that it is on the horizon.

The obsession, pre-autonomy, is genuine human/computer interface, in other words, where the brain can communicate and integrate with technology.  At one level, it would see a user post directly to Facebook using solely brain power, while at another, the technology could enable you to continually work out the odds at a casino, run hugely complex analyses of stock markets, make better informed decisions and perhaps speak any language you want. Moreover, I also read that nanobots will be injected into our bloodstreams in the next two decades and will live inside us to identify any problems and automatically repair them. Such advancements will herald continual communication with the cloud and our brain, interesting isn’t it?

Curiously, however, I am less interested in the technological leaps and bounds and more concerned about the ethics of it all. Such was the extent of my curiosity that I asked my 12-year-old twin boys if they would be prepared to have an implant in their brain if it made them better at X-Box and school and if it came with the certainty that they would pass their exams and get better jobs when they left education. An instant ‘yes’ was the response.  Frankly, I think the X-Box performance improvement sold it, but who’s to say!

On a serious note, what worried me was the speed at which both agreed to the operation. Perhaps 12-year-old boys are not mature enough thinkers and are not appropriate representatives of civilisation, but it begs the question, would you? For example, would you undergo keyhole surgery to have an implant put in your brain if it enabled you to play the piano like a virtuoso or speak any language of your choice or maybe even maintain your body weight at your desired level?

Perhaps the most sinister question would be if you would undergo such a surgery if it helped you perform better at work. Why so? Well, I suspect that, given no control framework or laws, that some, perhaps many, would choose to have brain implants and this inevitably would create a two-tier society—the haves and the have-nots. Effectively, and perhaps unsurprisingly, those that ‘have’ the implants will most likely acquire the key jobs due to their increased capability, while the have-nots will be condemned to the scrap heap. Indeed, this is before taking into account the availability and price of such implants which, undoubtedly, will favour the moneyed and privileged, initially, at least.

Imagine if one country made this compulsory and every citizen of that country effectively became a super-performer. Not only would this cause chaos and massively disadvantage every other nation on the planet, it begs the question of whether other nations would feel they had no choice but to follow suit?

I suggest we forget about the technology and the what-ifs associated with it. The human race has a habit of overcoming technical hurdles, so I am of the firm option that this is just a function of the passing of time. The real debate is should we allow this to happen? And if we do, is there any turning back?

Do you have an opinion on this matter? Take our short survey and I will share the results with you.


By Adrian Harvey

 CEO of Elephants don’t forget