Dr Ninada ,Medical Officer DHFW, Karnataka

I think it is pretty safe to say man has advanced beyond the iron age and well into the electronic age. With almost all muscular activity being replaced by machines and the likes of it the only area of our strong foothold is intellectual. However, a day where intelligence will also be taken over by robots is not far off. For a species that found means to keep the sun alive well after it set down the horizon, creating intelligence is not a herculean task! To an extent, we have already progressed from intelligence to artificial extent. With machine learning and computed analysis of data gaining popularity, the advent of artificial analysis is a safe bet.

Comparatively, the medical field has been shielded by the rude disruption of AI for want of the “human touch” of a doctor. However, we are not immune to robotic surgeries and diagnoses. If you take out “nobel” from the profession, being a doctor is just like any other profession that machines can handle well; given the changing attitude of doctors and public perception of doctors, there is frankly not much nobility left for us to leverage.

What awes me, however, is the prospect of wilful commands, i.e you will for something to happen and it gets manifested in the physical dimension. Yes, I am hinting at the NeuraLink[1] that has been loud in the news lately. The Elon Musk owned company has stated that the human trials of the Link is likely to begin within the next six months[2], the aim being to transmit the electrical impulses of all your thoughts into an electronic device to do the needful. For those oblivious to it, electrodes placed in your brain will process all the impulses and transmit the relevant ones into a wireless device, say a mouse or a keyboard. Essentially, this allows you to “think” of a word that via a bluetooth operated mouse/ keyboard will appear on the screen of your computer. At the core of this application is to provide a quality of life for patients with any form of paralysis or aphasias. Animal trials have already shown remarkable progress with monkeys being able to move the cursor to type out sentences[3] and play ping pong by controlling the joystick with their minds[4]! The company would indeed like to take it beyond mouse controls and keyboard commands with humans in the future.

There is this sci-fi fanatic within me who has watched enough movies and shows with brain experiments and she initiates my lowkey panic. For like Dr Strange, I can see a fourteen million, six hundred and five possible realities where most don’t end well for us. Setting aside that the Avengers did find that singular possibility of victory, this is a bluetooth device we talk about getting implanted into our brains! Now, I am all for technological advancement in the medical field, but where do we draw the line? How safe is technology really when we throw into the equation, the ongoing cyber attack on the AIIMS Delhi servers[5]? This is only patient data we are talking about and yet it is a concern of national security of huge magnitude. Now imagine being hacked into a system that is linked to the brains of millions. Indeed all technology is aimed to be for the greater good, but between the greater good and evil is a very thin and blurry line, isn’t it?The timeline of medical advancement does imply that an artificial brain and intelligence is due, following a long array of artificial organs, valves and implants. There has been enormous apprehension with the artificialization of each organ. Be it with the pacemakers or hips. Doubts still lurk among patients regarding introduction of any form of foreign particle into their bodies. But brain manipulation is an all new domain entirely simply due to the fact that a vast proportion of the brain and their functions are uncharted areas. Adding on to it is the risk of technological malfunction. There is also a philosophical question of are we controlling technology or is it the other way round. Be it our own blog on doom scrolling[6], or reports on online oniomania (compulsive shopping) and the psychological drive towards it[7][8], they all go on to show the power technology has over us.

The sheer helplessness we sometimes feel when it is beyond our power to control these urges is magnanimous and most of us at some point have felt it. Imagine feeling this when you have a wireless implant embedded in your brain with the supposed power of transducing your thoughts, not knowing for certain if it is you or the implant. Going a notch up into fantasy, will we know if ever the technology advances from transmitting impulses to controlling them? What of all those momentary dark thoughts we sometimes have but shake it off the next moment knowing that is wrong. Will the implants know to filter it? Will the implant be immediately able to halt an action that is set in motion, or does it go into refractory after each command? The ultimate need for all humans is the need to feel in control. In control of our thoughts, actions and life. This is easily demonstrated by the two absolutely contrasting demands regarding hijab in India and Iran where one group is willing to kill for hijab and another ready to die to remove it. More than anything else, these protests are every individual’s basic instincts and right to be in power of their choices.

Is that what neuralink promises to give us? Is the ability to free will and choice what is in store for us? Or is it going to eventually take away every bit of our freedom of choice?

Will intelligence withstand being artificialized, or will it all come crumbling down?

While we all wait to for our answers to unfold with the future, if you would like to join me in this very chill and feel good movies/ shows sesh of 101 ways that technology messed things up for us-

  1. Black mirror
  2. I, Robot
  3. How to change your mind
  4. Homunculus
  5. Live news updates on AIIMS Delhi

Happy watching!



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