How Brain-to-Brain Interfaces Will Make Things Difficult for Us

In the paper, we argue that the received views on how we (should) ascribe responsibility to individuals and collectives map poorly onto networks of these ‘Collective Minds’. The intimately collective nature of direct multiple-brain interfaces, for instance, where human minds can collaborate on and complete complex tasks without necessarily being in the same room – or even on the same continent! –  seem to suggest a collectivist moral framework to ascribe agency and responsibility. However, the technologies we are seeing in R&D do not necessitate the meeting of criteria we normally would turn to for ascription of such frameworks; they do not, for instance, seem to rely on that participants have shared goals, know what the goals of other participants are, or even know whether they are collaborating with another person or a computer. 

Four images depicting ‘Hivemind Brain-Computer Interfaces’, as imagined by the AI art generator Midjourney.
In anticipating and assessing the ethical impacts of Collective Minds, we propose that we move beyond binary approaches to thinking about agency and responsibility (i.e. that they are either individual or collective), and that relevant frameworks for now focus on other aspects of significance to ethical analysis, such as (a) technical specifications of the Collective Mind, (b) the domain in which the technology is deployed, and (c) the reversibility of its physical and mental impacts. However, in the future, we will arguably need to find other ways to assess agency constellations and responsibility distribution, lest we abandon these concepts completely in this domain.

‘Hivemind Brain-Computer Interfaces’, as imagined by the AI art generator Midjourney
In a new paper, I, together with Dr. Hazem Zohny, Prof. Julian Savulescu, and Prof. Ilina Singh, show how these new technologies may reshape fundamental components of widely accepted concepts pertaining to moral behaviour. The paper, titled ‘Merging Minds: The Conceptual and Ethical Impacts of Emerging Technologies for Collective Minds’, was just published in Neuroethics, and is freely available as an Open Access article through the link above.
Written by David Lyreskog
A growing number of technologies are currently being developed to improve and distribute thinking and decision-making. Rapid progress in brain-to-brain interfacing, and hybrid and artificial intelligence, promises to transform how we think about collective and collaborative cognitive tasks. With implementations ranging from research to entertainment, and from therapeutics to military applications, as these tools continue to improve, we need to anticipate and monitor their impacts – how they may affect our society, but also how they may reshape our fundamental understanding of agency, responsibility, and other concepts which ground our moral landscapes.