Unlocking the Mind

Taida Nando for Distilled Post

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.


Ethical considerations

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’.