It is no secret that Elon Musk's Neuralink technology may pave the way for human augmentation, but its invasive nature has also raised concerns.
In a recent and unsurprising turn of events, tech mogul Elon Musk has made a splash by announcing his investment of a staggering $100 million into Neuralink just this Tuesday. The invention is not anything new. However, what has brought it to public attention is the surprising approval from the FDA for small trial human testing that has brought the chip into the limelight. There is no time better than now to dive into the advancement, implications, and ethical considerations surrounding the future of brain chip technology.
What is Neuralink?
The company’s history dates to 2016, with a core focus on developing brain machine interfaces. At the forefront of its innovations is the ‘Link’ device, which Musk has described as a ‘Fitbit for your skull’. The end goal is to create a system where a robot can implant the brain chip and bridge a connection between our brains and computers through tiny electrodes.
The hope is that the device will create a direct connection between the brain and computers, allowing users to control several devices-even through their thoughts. In short, it sounds innovative.
Neuralink has announced that allowing the brain to interact with computers or other devices can revolutionise healthcare and other sectors.
Innovation at its best
For medical professionals, there is potential in using technology to improve medical treatments and enhance the quality of life for individuals with neurological disorders.
Brain chips have already been presumed to have the potential to help paralysed people with strokes to regain their motor functions. For example, these people may regain their ability to control limbs through neural signals. The level of innovation does not stop here. Brain chips could also enhance treatments for neurological diseases by providing targeted interventions based on real-time brain activity.
Futurists, who stand behind Musk, have argued that the technology could propel human evolution forward by tackling global challenges-from ageing to scientific breakthroughs.
The realm of innovative ideas is brimming with potential. However, we must navigate the ethical considerations that accompany them. One concern is the invasive nature of brain chip implants, as they involve surgical procedures to fix the chip to the brain with the help of a robotic device.
One concern is the invasive nature of brain chip implants, as it involves surgical procedures and potential risks. Additionally, there may be ethical implications regarding the level of control given to external entities, such as healthcare providers or insurance companies, over an individual's brain functions. Striking a balance between medical benefits and personal autonomy will be crucial in the widespread adoption of brain chips in healthcare.
There is the issue of data privacy, as brain data is highly personal and sensitive. Privacy advocacy groups have already issued their concerns and argue that before making them accessible to the public, there will need to be strict regulations in place and robust safeguards to protect privacy rights and prevent unauthorised access to neural data.
If left in the hands of large companies, sponsored by the mega-rich, such as Musk, there may be a perpetuation of unethical data practices. There is also the fear of how brain chips may become so advanced and land in the wrong hands that they are used to control humans.
It may sound absurd, but there is a fair concern that these chips could be susceptible to mind control from the mega-rich. One of the device’s flaws, yet core strength, is its ability to operate through the brain and the computer. Hackers would have somewhat easy access to the human brain. Some technology conspiracy theorists fear that this could lead to hackers controlling minds to make them robots. There is also the fear that this may open marketing opportunities for companies to buy customer data and encourage them to buy their products.
Some critics have argued that if the technology becomes widespread, there may be a risk of exploitation and coercion of the working class looking to make ‘easy money’. The working class may face challenges, as there is little chance of the test subjects being in the higher economic strata. There is a fear that they may be coerced to become test subjects who are subjected to inadequate safeguards or uninformed consent.
The future of human augmentation
The future of human augmentation is undeniably intriguing. While Musk’s recent investment marks a milestone in the field of neuroscience and human computer interface, there is still a bridge to cross before we can begin celebrating.
Brain-machine interfaces are not that new, with MindX already making waves in the field. The sector is already expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 12.43%-reaching $283 million by 2025. Whilst the sector is only in its early stages of growing exponentially, whilst we are in the early stages, ongoing research, ethical discussions, ethical frameworks, and responsible implementations of such devices will be vital to ensure there are ethical developments.
For now, we will be eagerly anticipating what the future holds for Neuralink and other intrusive technologies. It is still unclear when Neuralink's trials will begin, although Musk has announced plans to begin in November this year. The good news for sceptics is that for Neuralink to begin trials the company will need to demonstrate safety and efficacy before the conservation on rolling out the chip can begin.
Only time will reveal if reality aligns with the eerie scenarios reminiscent of the show ‘Black Mirror’.