Neuralink, the company founded by Elon Musk, has been granted authorization by US authorities to proceed with tests on computer chips within the human brain. Neuralink announced on Twitter yesterday that they are pleased to inform the public about obtaining approval by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their first clinical study in humans, describing it as an important initial milestone.
During a presentation of his startup last December, Musk mentioned that the implants created by Neuralink could potentially facilitate direct communication with computers through thoughts. Musk, who has a history of announcing ambitious goals for his companies, acknowledged the need for caution, emphasizing the importance of ensuring functionality before implanting the devices into individuals. However, skeptics argue that many of Musk’s lofty visions never materialize.
Despite initial delays, including Musk’s proclamation in July 2019 that human testing would begin the following year, Neuralink has now received approval for clinical trials. However, the prototype implants, roughly the size of a coin, have thus far only been tested on animals. The presentation showcased monkeys playing simple video games or manipulating cursors on screens using the brain chip.
Musk’s primary objective with Neuralink is to address neurological disorders through these interfaces. The startup is currently working on developing additional implants intended for spinal cord or eye insertion, with the aim of restoring mobility or vision. However, according to Musk, his ultimate goal is to prevent humans from being overwhelmed intellectually by systems driven by artificial intelligence.
Should we willingly surrender ourselves to this dystopian future? It sounds like a plot straight out of a dystopian science-fiction thriller. Yet, while the FDA has granted Neuralink the green light for human clinical trials, competitors have already made significant advancements. So, what lies beneath the surface of this mysterious enterprise?
Musk, the self-proclaimed visionary, established Neuralink as a neurotechnology company back in 2016, causing a sensation in clandestine circles. However, it was not until a year later when the Wall Street Journal broke the story that the public became aware of its existence.
The concept behind Neuralink is both simple and chilling: to decipher human thoughts, process them through technological circuits, and translate them into actions or speech. The device, surgically implanted in the brain, records and manipulates brain activity. Yes, you heard it right – they propose drilling a coin-sized hole into your skull, connecting minute wires directly to your delicate brain tissue. They claim that external devices can be wirelessly controlled and assure the public that apart from a minor scar concealed beneath the hair, the procedure is painless, allowing patients to return home within a day. But that is not all – Neuralink boasts the ability to wirelessly visualize and audibly capture neuron activity using Bluetooth technology. And let us not forget the daily charging required to power this technological nightmare!
Musk envisions terrifying possibilities. He suggests that paralyzed individuals could regain mobility by controlling exoskeletons with their thoughts, while those trapped in locked-in syndrome might finally communicate with the outside world. Musk audaciously likens these brain implants to a “Fitbit in the head,” equipped with various sensors monitoring users’ health and issuing warnings at the slightest anomaly. But wait, it gets even more outlandish! Neuralink’s grandiose vision includes downloading, storing, retrieving, and even transferring human memories to machines, and potentially implanting them into new bodies. Musk may wax poetic about this sci-fi dream, but respected neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis from Duke University vehemently rebukes Musk’s fantastical notions. Nicolelis claims that Musk lacks understanding of the brain’s inner workings and even its location, dismissing the idea of extracting memories like extracting juice as pure lunacy. Let us also not overlook the glaringly unresolved ethical and privacy concerns.
Numerous institutions and companies have been dabbling with brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) for years. Neuralink has gained recognition for its purportedly groundbreaking elimination of traditional wiring, which supposedly reduces potential complications.
Neuralink is not alone in this risky endeavor. Other competitors in the field of BCIs have made considerable strides. Synchron, in a surprising revelation, claimed to have successfully implanted a brain chip in a patient in the United States, positioning themselves as pioneers in the country. The Stentrode, their BCI, receives and transmits neural signals, enabling patients to send messages and engage in online shopping. The fact that Musk is rumored to be interested in investing in Synchron speaks volumes about the intensifying rivalry.
Despite the grand visions and sensational headlines, none of the companies exploring BCIs have secured final market approval for their products. Recently, Swiss researchers achieved a breakthrough by enabling a paralyzed Dutchman to walk again using electronic sensors implanted in his head, spine, and legs after a traumatic accident.
As the hype surrounding Neuralink and similar ventures continues to grow, it is imperative to raise critical questions about the implications and consequences of tinkering with the human brain. Critics argue that the profound risks associated with tampering with our very essence – our memories, our privacy, and our humanity – should not be taken lightly. Ethical dilemmas and societal challenges demand serious consideration.
While the allure of restoring lost abilities may be tempting, we must approach the merger of man and machine with caution. Let us not lose sight of our core values, our autonomy, and the sanctity of human life.
In this relentless Faustian pursuit of scientific progress, let us not sacrifice our very souls. We must safeguard the essence of our humanity and maintain a vigilant and prudent approach to these unfathomable technologies.