Someone in my head
Elon Musk's Neuralink receives approval for human trials of brain implants for patients with paralysis. Ethical concerns remain.
Brain implants are a favourite fictional trope for dystopic tales of computers taking over the lives of people and the world at large. But they could serve a useful enough medical purpose in the real world, which explains why Elon Musk’s firm Neuralink has received US regulatory approval to begin its first human trials. These are to be carried out on patients with paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. According to its plan, a robot will use an intricate surgical process to implant a device into an area of the brain responsible for the intention to move, thus setting up a brain-computer interface. The aim will be to enable subjects to operate a computer keyboard or move a cursor merely by using their thoughts. The trials will take six years. Should it work, the company would have used the stuff of pop-culture nightmares to restore the agency of those who’d lost it, which would be the opposite of these implant scare stories. Still, this field is not free of profound ethical concerns. Digital systems can be hacked and hijacked. Freedoms could be violated at levels too intimate to be detected. This invasion of our nervous system needs close tabs kept on it.
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