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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

For artificial intelligence to begin approximating human know-how, scientists will need to create models of how people think — such as simulations of your and my actual brain. That's when the trouble may begin.

The big picture: In this future — which could be plausible within decades — we will voluntarily upload these virtual versions of our brains onto platforms like Facebook or Elon Musk's aptly named Neuralink, which may conduct experiments on them. When they do, it will be only a little removed from fiddling with the real us.

Brain uploading, or whole-brain emulation, is one way to simulate intelligence. Although the science remains well out of reach today, Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering and an AI pioneer, argues it will be possible within decades.

One way brain simulations will be used is to better personalize commercial products and services. But in getting there, companies will raise numerous Frankenstein's monster scenarios of tinkering with people's very essence.

  • We risk a future "in which a handful of private companies own and monetize a map of our lives, ourselves, and how we think and feel at any given moment," said Meredith Whittaker, executive director of AI Now and a research scientist at New York University.
  • How about this freakish thought: By understanding your virtual brain, companies could advertise exactly what you want when you want it — perhaps useful, but incredibly intrusive.
  • "They could know us better than we know ourselves," Whittaker told the O’Reilly AI Conference in San Francisco last Thursday.

What's happening now: Even without a perfectly accurate copy of your brain, scientists are designing systems that try to imitate how humans make decisions. Basic behavior modeling is the bread and butter of social networks like Facebook, often used to improve advertising.

  • For now, the profiles Facebook creates from users’ browsing habits can be laughably off-base. But data taken directly from brains says a lot more about people than inferences from their likes and shares, powering much more accurate predictions.
  • Facebook is already building technology that would allow people to type with their thoughts.
  • Companies could be compelled to share this data with the government in certain cases, Whittaker said, or could build a business selling it to employers or health insurers.

Go deeper: How linking our brains to computers could change humanity

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - World

In photos: Pope Francis spreads message of peace on first trip to Iraq

Pope Francis waving as he arrives near the ruins of the Syriac Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception (al-Tahira-l-Kubra), in the old city of Iraq's northern Mosul on March 7. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP via Getty Images

Pope Francis was on Sunday visiting areas of northern Iraq once held by Islamic State militants.

Why it matters: This is the first-ever papal trip to Iraq. The purpose of Francis' four-day visit is largely intended to reassure the country's Christian minority, who were violently persecuted by ISIS, which controlled the region from 2014-2017.

Cuomo faces fresh misconduct allegations from former aides

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a February press conference in New York City. Photo: Seth Wenig/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The office of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was on Saturday facing fresh accusations of misconduct against his staff, including further allegations of inappropriate behavior against two more women. His office denies the claims.

Driving the news: The Washington Post reported Cuomo allegedly embraced an aide when he led the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and that two male staffers who worked for him in the governor's office accused him of routinely berating them "with explicit language."

In photos: Protesters rally for George Floyd ahead of Derek Chauvin's trial

Chaz Neal, a Redwing community activist, outside the Minnesota Governor's residence during a protest in support of George Floyd in St.Paul, Minnesota, on March 6. Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images

Dozens of protesters were rallying outside the Minnesota governor's mansion in St Paul Saturday, urging justice for George Floyd ahead of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's trial over the 46-year-old's death.

The big picture: Chauvin faces charges for second-degree murder and manslaughter over Floyd's death last May, which ignited massive nationwide and global protests against racism and for police reform. His trial is due to start this Monday, with jury selection procedures.