Telepathy: Would you allow a chip implant in your brain?

Elon Musk said that the first human patient has received a brain implant from his startup Neuralink Corp., a significant step forward for the company that aims to one day let humans control computers with their minds. (Gabby Jones/Bloomberg)
Elon Musk said that the first human patient has received a brain implant from his startup Neuralink Corp., a significant step forward for the company that aims to one day let humans control computers with their minds. (Gabby Jones/Bloomberg)

Summary

  • How exactly will Neuralink's implants in your brain work?

Elon Musk-owned Neuralink has implanted a brain chip in a patient who is “recovering well". Neuralink’s brain-computer interface (BCI) can help patients use their limbs through thought. But some are wary about the lack of details provided by Musk.

How do BCIs work in humans?

“Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer. That is the goal...", says Musk. Neuralink’s BCI product, called ‘Telepathy’, is “fully implantable" and comprises an Implant that records neural activity through 1,024 electrodes, a surgical robot and a user app. Neuralink is accepting patients (22 years and above) with quadriplegia (limited function in all four limbs) due to spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). However, it will not accept individuals with devices like pacemakers or deep brain stimulators (DBS), or a history of seizures.

What is Neuralink’s approach?

“Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer. That is the goal...", says Musk. Neuralink’s BCI product, called ‘Telepathy’, is “fully implantable" and comprises an implant that records neural activity through 1,024 electrodes, a surgical robot and a user app. Neuralink is accepting patients (22 years and above) with quadriplegia (limited function in all four limbs) due to spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). However, it will not accept individuals with devices like pacemakers or deep brain stimulators (DBS), or a history of seizures.

Are there other companies doing similar work?

Paradromics, Synchron, Kernel, Emotiv, CTRL-labs (Meta), MindMaze and Blackrock Microsystems, too, are working on BCIs. Their innovations range from neuroimaging headsets to EEG headsets for gaming and wrist-worn devices for intuitive computer interaction. Some offer solutions for healthcare and virtual reality, and even implantable BCIs.

What are the benefits of BCIs?

BCIs can revolutionize healthcare for individuals with paralysis or severe motor disabilities to control devices; offer immersive experiences in entertainment and gaming; monitor brain activity and provide real-time feedback for stress management or anxiety reduction; train pilots to improve their cognitive performance and response times. Potential uses include secure communication and control of unmanned vehicles; and educational content based on the learner’s cognitive state, making learning more effective.

Are there any areas of concern?

The long-term effects on the brain are being tested. Brain chip implants can be hacked, raising privacy and security concerns. Safeguards against unauthorized access are needed. Issues of bias in algorithms and questions about autonomy and personal identity emerge as BCIs could alter cognitive abilities, raising ethical concerns too. Ensuring equitable access to such technologies is critical too. Those with religious leanings could see gene editing and BCI implants as “meddling with nature".

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