US ethicists are calling for UN-led regulation to protect people from brain-computer interfaces. 

At the 2016 Code Conference, held last June in Rancho Palos Verdes in California, US, Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk made a stuttering, almost offhand pronouncement that proceeded to reverberate, far more emphatically, across global media outlets.

Musk predicted that, should AI continue its current trajectory, humans would be left so far behind we would become like pets – “house cats” – to our Artificial Intelligence (AI) overlords.

Following up in May this year, the tech billionaire launched Neuralink, a company whose mission is to develop a brain-computer interface (BCI) or “neural lace” that would allow humans to communicate with computers at the speed of thought, augmenting our intelligence to the point where we could keep pace with any rampant AI.

There is, however, another threat for which we may be equally ill-prepared, according to a commentary by a group of neuroscientists, clinicians and ethicists, known as the Morningside group, published in the journal Nature this week. That threat comes from the brain devices themselves.

The group argues that august codes of ethics such as the Declaration of Helsinki, the Belmont Report, and even the Asilomar AI Cautionary Principles, ratified by nearly 4000 signatories in January including Stephen Hawking and Musk himself, are no longer fit for purpose in a world where the capabilities, and risks of BCI are advancing almost weekly.

Read the full article in Cosmos magazine here