Professor Włodzisław Duch: Artificial intelligence changes everything
There is an accelerating progress in the methods of measuring brain activity, analysing neuroimaging and electrophysiological data, and understanding the processes taking place in the brain.
“The road to Humanity+, a transhumanist society of more advanced human species, is full of dangers, but it may not be that long,” says Professor Włodzisław Duch from the Faculty of Physics, Astronomy and Informatics of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń.
Currently, humanity is at an 'extraordinary moment in the development of the world', on the threshold of the possibility of 'superhuman enhancement', when attempts are being made to 'couple artificial intelligence with our brains', Professor Duch said during the lecture 'Artificial intelligence, neurotechnologies and human development'.
According to Duch, since 2020 people have been dealing with the so-called fourth industrial revolution, which is the result of the development of artificial intelligence (AI). This includes the rapid development of technology, especially artificial intelligence and robotics, behavioural sciences, neurosciences; improving human capabilities thanks to bioelectronics, interference with the brain, genetic modifications and the development of personalized medicine.
At the beginning of research on artificial intelligence, by creating new algorithms people tried to teach machines what humans can do, reminded Professor Duch. “Due to the complexity of certain problems, not everything can be described with algorithms. For example, how to record the ability to understand human speech using algorithms? People do it intuitively', the scientist wondered. He added that in the 21st century, scientists no longer try to teach machines what humans can do. They prefer to create systems that can learn on their own (machine learning). Neurocognitive technologies are helpful here.
“By identifying patterns in brain signals, measured by electrophysiological (EEG/MEG, ECoG) or neuroimaging (fMRI, PET) methods, scientists discover brain activity patterns that represent thoughts, intentions, emotions and other mental states. This leads to many applications, ranging from objective diagnostic methods in psychiatry, therapeutic interventions using neuromodulation, to neurorehabilitation based on direct brain stimulation, combined with behavioural procedures.
“We are on the verge of realizing the dream of optimising brain processes.”
He added that applications supporting the treatment of epilepsy, depression, addictions and other mental disorders were already available. People with Parkinson's disease or obsessive compulsive disorder who have stimulators implanted in their brains can regulate their behaviour with an external controller.
There are also non-invasive solutions for monitoring processes in the brain: electroencephalography or electrocorticography, i.e. microelectrodes that which capture signals from the brain, which are later analysed by AI. Ultimately, they are translated into decisions, intentions, sounds and images.
On the other hand, brain-computer interfaces (BCI) that already exist allow for direct coupling of the brain with electronic devices. “All of these developments are rapidly changing human nature in unprecedented ways, creating new ways of social interaction,” the professor said. He added that technologies were being developed to enable the transfer of skills from one brain to another, decode dreams and even images that people imagine.
Researchers are also working on electronic biomarkers, filters that capture information that allows to objectively assess whether people suffer from any mental illness, such as schizophrenia, ADHD or depression.
In the case of healthy people, scientists try to optimise the processes taking place in the brain through neurofeedback.
Professor Duch said: “A recent research objective is to decode what is happening in the brain and compare these results with optimal processes. Then, we try to determine what needs to be changed in brain processes to optimise them.”
In the future, this may help people suffering from depression, PTSD, nightmares. The professor explained that in the case of people with these problems, scientists try to 'detect which areas of the brain communicate too much - and weaken these processes'.
When it comes to people addicted to drugs or nicotine, neurotechnology will be tasked with studying what is happening in the frontal and occipital areas - and synchronizing their processes, making it easier to quit the addiction.
Professor Duch believes that the branch of science related to neurostimulation will develop strongly. Even today, patients with drug-resistant epilepsy are implanted with sensors that 'sense' an approaching seizure and can stop it. Microelectrodes are also implanted to help patients with depression and chronic pain.
He added that Elon Musk's Neuralink is working on the 'neural lace', which will involve implanting a mesh of electrodes into the human brain. They are supposed to allow people to directly receive and send signals from and to a computer.
Suggesting what may await humanity in the future, Duch emphasized that AI changes everything, including the way we do science. He reminded that large companies and global consortia are currently at the forefront of research.
Professor Duch said that AI-based automation will lead to great social changes. According to the Word Economic Forum 85 million jobs will disappear by 2025 due to automation, many professions will cease to exist. Even the analysis of legal documents can be automated, for example, software for analysing long contracts is already in use.
Growing understanding of perception and language could lead to the autonomy of artificial intelligence. Duch said: “The evolution of thought will move to multidimensional worlds beyond our understanding. Robots/artificial intelligence systems will quickly learn from each other.”
In his opinion, in the future, “neurocognitive technologies will also profoundly change us. We are moving from animal life to a new virtual world of our own making. Is it a brave new world or happiness for all? We are not getting smarter, but that change come sooner than we think.”
Professor Duch's lecture delivered in December was organized by the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń as part of the YUFE Academy. The YUFE Academy is a series of lectures, workshops and activities organized by universities associated in one of the first European universities - the YUFE consortium (Young Universities for the Future of Europe).
PAP - Science in Poland, Anna Mikołajczyk-Kłębek
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