Elon Musk has launched yet another startup, and this time it involves brain implants.

With Neuralink, Elon Musk is trying to decode the human brain. He has designed a brain chip that would pick up neural activity. Once the recordings are developed, Neuralink plans to decode and develop solutions to neurological problems like Parkinson’s disease or spinal injuries.

We have seen applications of brain implants in rats, where the brain activity of one rat was translated into electrical impulses onto another rat’s brain chip.1 In this way, rats in different locations were able to communicate and collaborate on different activities. For example, when one mouse hit a specific button sequence, the other was able to hit the exact same sequence. In a more recent study, scientists were able to control the movement patterns of mice using a similar chip.2

These are all instances where we are combining brain and computer functions, and thus they are called “brain-computer interfaces.” Brain-computer interfaces provide many potential solutions to neural issues like paralysis since the implants would be a way to bypass the actual injury. One business, BrainGate, has FDA approval to conduct clinical trials on humans. This new technology allows paralysis patients to control prosthetics and communicate using their minds.3 We are beginning to see a world where the definitive wall between human and artificial intelligence is breaking, and the two worlds are merging in interesting ways.

Of course, this new technology comes with its own issues; researchers at North Carolina University say that implants may act as ‘smart drugs’ since brain-computer interfaces aim to enhance cognitive abilities.4 Going back to Elon Musk’s chip, his main goal is to provide solutions for medical issues, but he does envision using it to add a layer of “super-human intelligence” to the user. A major aspect to consider is that these chips are permanent — after being inserted in the head, its effects will theoretically never wear off. Dr. Moran Cerf is working on a chip that will allow humans to surf the web with their thoughts. Individuals that have these chips will have an advantage; “They can make money by just thinking about the right investments, and we cannot; so they’re going to get richer, they’re going to get healthier, they’re going to live longer.”

Overall, this technology has many potential medical applications, so serious research on brain-computer interfaces is great news. But, it is important to be aware of ethical concerns that come with it. What do you think: super-human or super unfair?


Sources

  1. Rojahn, S. (2020, April 02). Rats communicate through brain chips. Retrieved February 21, 2021, from https://www.technologyreview.com
  2. Ada Poon. (2016, November 28). Neuroscientists Wirelessly Control the Brain of a Scampering Lab Mouse. Retrieved February 21, 2021, from https://spectrum.ieee.org
  3. Stibel, J. (2020, September 10). The future of ‘brain chip’ technology: Balancing whether we can with whether we should. Retrieved February 21, 2021, from https://www.usatoday.com
  4. Dailymail.com, S. (2020, November 12). Ethics of Elon Musk’s NEURALINK and other brain chips questioned. Retrieved February 21, 2021, from https://www.dailymail.co.uk