Brain Games

The therapeutic potential of AI-powered brain implants is no doubt exciting. But questions abound about the inevitable ethical ramifications of putting new, largely unregulated tech into human beings.

Brain Games
Image courtesy Pexels

Imagine an implant placed in the brain of someone with treatment-resistant depression. Powered by artificial intelligence, the electrode sends out impulses that could regulate mood. In a patient who’s lost their ability to speak, another brain implant could give voice to their thoughts. In their actual voice, as learned from old videos and recordings by an algorithm. It’s a miraculous vision of the healing potential of AI. What could go wrong?

“We have this new power to directly connect to a person’s brain … put ideas in and pull ideas out,” says Brian Patrick Green, director of technology ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara. But while the therapeutic potential is exciting, Green says, questions abound about the inevitable ethical ramifications of implanting this new, largely unregulated tech in human beings.

“There needs to be a conversation about what balance we want [from brain implants],” Green says. “Is there some way we can get the benefits without the harms? What are the legal ramifications? Who’s responsible?”

So the Markkula Center decided to have one—a panel moderated by Green and featuring Santa Clara faculty discussing what ethical considerations should be made by those experimenting with and producing AI-powered brain implants.

“When we think about best futures, weighing the extremely high cost of neurological disabilities with the promise of tech, to do so responsibly is to put ethics into the research,” said assistant professor of bioengineering Julia Scott, the director of the SCU Brain and Memory Care Lab.

When companies are testing new brain implant tech, there should be thorough consideration of what types of information we’re extracting from—or even putting into— a person. How is that information being stored? Is it accessible to just anyone? “Enforcement of medical norms needs to be applied with another layer of security around the data gathered and how it can be used,” Scott said.

Perhaps most pressing: What happens if a company producing the tech becomes bankrupt or otherwise goes defunct? “Are you going to explain the tech? The patient would have to go back to their previous state,” said Dorothée Caminiti, director of bioethics at the Markkula Center. Or, if the tech is left implanted, who’s going to ensure the operating system of the computer in your brain is kept up-to-date? “Who’s accountable,” she asked. “What do we do to protect and care for the people who are going to use these devices?”

Watch the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics panel, AI-Powered Brain Implants: Novel Ethical Challenges.

DREAM Achieved

A dream to expand education access earns this entrepreneur entrance to the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program.

Sociology, Gen Ed, and Breaking the Rules

Fewer students are majoring in social sciences but they’re still one of the most popular areas of study. Santa Clara sociologists explain why.

Super Powered Compassion

The latest children’s book from clinical psychologist Professor Shauna Shapiro teaches kids how to cultivate self-compassion.

In The Game

“We are going to showcase Santa Clara and what we are all about,” says the Warriors’ Brandin Podziemski ’23. Broncos take center court at Chase Center with a night of music, alumni reunions, and jersey swaps.