Man and Machine: A Look at Neurotechnology

This post reflects on the potential of Neuralink as they work to reach–and even go beyond–the outer limits of our interconnectedness with technology.

Introduction

The continuous advancement of technology makes our interconnected lives more exciting by the moment. The more connected we become, the more we must question: where does it stop? Is the sky the limit? Outer space? Or is the human mind truly the greatest gateway to breaching all limits?

Today, there’s a company out there that has been created with the purpose of testing this theory–exploring the mind by hooking electronics up to it and seeing what we find. Of course, this type of technological stride could be revolutionary in many ways, but it could also be quite detrimental to the human species if mistreated.

In this blog post, I will be discussing the company Neuralink–what it is and how it works, its positive implications for the medical field and other industries, as well as some concerns such a technology poses for the future.

Enter: Neuralink

Neuralink, a neurotechnology company in California owned by Elon Musk, is currently creating a Brain Machine Interface (BMI)–a fancy term for brain implant–with the intention of one day having the ability to read and write data to human brains. Just thinking about that sentence makes stories like I, Robot and The Matrix come to mind.

Before we fixate on our worst fears, however, let’s talk about what Neuralink offers.

Benefits for the healthcare industry

Last Friday (August 28), Musk held a live streamed presentation of Neuralink’s progress. If you missed it, you can watch the recording here. His presentation included Gertrude, a pig with a Neuralink chip implanted in her brain. Connected with sensory neurons for her snout, her implant recorded a neural spike whenever she touched her nose to a surface.

The thought of such a machine’s capabilities are fascinating as well as intimidating. Having access to the human brain, along with the ability to decipher the associated data, could turn into a goldmine for many industries–including and especially the healthcare industry.

Musk hopes this device may eventually be used to treat disorders like paralysis, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and even mental health issues–but for early use on humans, the intended purpose is for preventative and corrective medical treatments. Not only could we monitor brain activity to detect problems, but we may be able to tell the body through those neurological networks to correct the issue. Your insulin is low? No worries. The BMI can monitor and tell your pancreas to work again.

Once the data can be understood, the possibilities are seemingly limitless.

So, how is it installed?

Neuralink has a machine designed to surgically implant these small interfaces. The electronic device can use a USB port, bluetooth, or another similar concept to interface once this is completed. A machine is used to thread the tiny electrodes into your brain (about 1.5 millimeters deep) which is done after a portion of your skull is removed.

Once connected, the interface is able to read data from your cerebral cortex and send electrical impulses back–which hopefully matures into data our minds can one day understand as this emerging tech evolves.

If you’re interested, you can find more in-depth information on how this all works here.

The next step in our human-internet integration

What I’ve discussed so far merely scratches the surface. What about the day-to-day, fun life stuff?

It’s no secret we are attached to our Internet-connected devices–to the point they might as well be our non-volatile storage. Photos, music, comments, feelings, and memories are all being slowly tethered to the hive of data on the Internet.

As technology continues to speed up, however, the rate at which we want to connect and upload also increases. Right now the portal to all that data is relatively slow. Fingers have to touch buttons in order to set off a sequence that transfers into whatever action you intend to do. Even writing this article is a sluggish process.

The question then turns to: what if the process of talking or writing is replaced with the transfer of thought coming straight from the brain in some wireless, telepathic manner? Again, the opportunities are endless. Data transfer would be increased, communication and understanding improved, browsing the Internet would be a whole new experience.

Once the BMI is in place, everything that is now uploaded and stored in the cloud could possibly be accessible too by connecting your BMI to your phone.

The risks

Of course, with every positive thing comes a balance of negative. From bodily infections from implanting the hardware to security and privacy, there are plenty of issues to be concerned about.

I would imagine a device like this could be used selectively by the user to determine what they would like to share–but what if malicious actors craft not a virus, but a traumatic thought or emotion to hurt end-users? The engineering and security behind this machine would have to be rock-solid!

Conclusion

There are a lot of risks to consider, but soft keyboards are the worst! I would freely risk my health to never have to battle with auto-incorrect again. And as far as the rise of the machines, I am too lazy to mow the lawn, so those machines have to deal with me once assimilation starts.



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