Neuralink: A step too far or the future?

Transhumanism, the theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology, has always been a debatable topic to whether it is the future of technology. Many still believe technological advancements are untrustworthy, due to the lack of human control and interaction. However, the applications regarding technological advancements are being exponentially used by organisations because of their many advantages.

Elon Musk’s most recent start – up, Neuralink, founded in 2016, aims to connect human to machine using a chip that is implanted into the human brain. However, one of Musk’s competitors in this field includes Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, who has developed a non – invasive chip that will allow the user to ‘hear’ with their skin.

Neuralink’s methodology for implanting the computer chip is to sew it into the brain using a robot that acts like a sewing machine – networking the chip with electrode studded wires. In Musk’s most recent conference with Neuralink last Friday, he said that the computer chip is “kind of like a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires” [1]. Advanced robots are being developed to make the process of implanting the chip into the brain fully autonomous. Machine learning has been heavily invested into for the autonomous robots to ensure that when the electrodes are implanted into the brain, the robot will avoid making contact with any veins or arteries to ensure no neural damage. In the conference, Musk announced that the device will come as two separate components – one ‘sown’ into the brain and the other a detachable device. The chip will have an all-day battery life with overnight charging and a wireless range of 5 – 10 metres.

The device is being tested safely on pigs, as revealed in Friday’s conference [2]. Three pigs were used to demonstrate three different scenarios: without the Neuralink chip, with the chip installed into the brain, and the chip uninstalled after usage. The chip installed in the second pig sensed contact on the pig’s snout (displayed on a live plotted graph) and the pig’s joint movement whilst walking on a treadmill. The demonstration showed how easy it was to retrieve data from the pig’s brain.

Questions were asked later on in the conference about what other tasks the chip could achieve. Neuralink’s head neurosurgeon, Matt MacDougall, was asked why the electrodes are not going deeper into the brain – he explained that working only on the cortex will achieve a number of breakthroughs. A lot of the human brain’s low level processing occurs in the cortex, such as hearing and visual processing, therefore the chip could help solve blindness, paralysis and hearing (mentioned by Musk afterwards). Neuralink plans to invest into further versions of the chip that enter deeper sections of the brain (under the cortex) like the hypothalamus, so the chip can have the potential to cure depression, anxiety and depression. Before diving deeper down into the brain, it is important for Neuralink to achieve their basic aims successfully, such as data collection – however, Musk plans to link the chip to further applications like gaming and Tesla vehicle operations.

The Neuralink device will definitely have a positive impact on the life of its user, by making interactions with devices, such as smartphones, easier for tackling physical and mental health – but does the device have any negatives? The answer is yes, and with good reason. Another planned application for the device to pursue is for communication purposes between two users without the need for written or spoken language, therefore losing social interaction between one another. The device will be very expensive to purchase when first released, meaning that only a few consumers will use the chip; however, when prices drop and the device becomes more readily available to the public domain in years to come, will the lack of interaction between people produce a ghostly society? The electronic group, Kraftwerk, released a song ‘The Man Machine’ in 1978 with a lyric “superhuman being” – will they have made a correct judgment of the future to come?

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