“If you go back a few hundred years, what we take for granted today would seem like magic being able to talk to people over long distances, to transmit images, flying, accessing vast amounts of data like an oracle. These are all things that would have been considered magic a few hundred years ago”. –Elon Musk
What if you could learn new skills or abilities just by downloading a file into your brain? Or you are on vacation somewhere in Spain but you don’t speak Spanish; Imagine if you could download the data or program into your own brain and converse with indigenes very well and additionally, what if you could recall every single moment of that vacation in perfect detail? Won’t that be most amazing?
Though this may sound like an episode from your favourite science fiction movie, sit tight and carefully go through this mind blowing article and let’s see if you will be lured into getting a Neuralink implant in the next few years.
Elon Musk and his team at the neural tech startup, Neuralink believe that their electronic brain computer interfaces could make these and many more possible. Described as “a fitbit in your skull with tiny wires”, the small, easy to install brain computer interface could be used to expand the capabilities of humans, changing the way we interact with technology and treat neural and mobility issues.
Neuralink is a brain machine interface (BMI) that can read and write into our brains. This is not an entirely new technology as it was used to treat patients of Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and restore hearing. Neuralink seeks to bring improvements to this technology. Our brain contains infinite arrays of neurons, which are the basic cell units of our nervous system that respond to electrical signals sent from one place to another. This happens anytime we think, act or do anything that involves our brain in some way. When a stimulus triggers a neuron to react, which is termed an action potential, an electromagnetic field exists so Neuralink’s device will transmit this analogue data with thousands of small threads acting as electrodes implanted within our brains. These analogue signals are then converted to digital data which will then be interpreted by digital devices. The thread implants will be implanted by a robot to prevent any injuries or pain. The procedure will be done without anesthesia as it is not required. Neuralink’s immediate goal is to develop brain machine interface for medical use; to help people with severe spinal cord damage, cure paralysis and to help restore vision as well.
In order to understand how Neuralink works, you must understand that your brain sends information to different parts of your body using neurons. These neurons connect with each other to form a large network and communicate using chemical signals called neurotransmitters. The reaction generates an electric field and you can record this by placing electrodes nearby. These electrodes can then understand the electrical signals in your brain and translate them into an algorithm that a machine can read. In this way, Neuralink can read what you are thinking and devise a way for you to talk to machines without even opening your mouth.
Of course, not all that glitters is gold. Every good thing has a bad side, as insignificant as that could be. First, this new technology could come with adverse health effects. With the brain being such a delicate organ, the central coordination point of our daily endeavours, tampering with its anatomy and physiology could lead to serious neurological problems, of which I am pretty sure no one would want to imagine, let alone fall victim to. A Central American scientist conducting quite a crazy propaganda campaign by using himself as a lab rat. He actually had a brain implant and has since suffered health complications. This is not to condemn this project entirely though.
Another point to consider is that since Neuralink is more or less a communications system, the issue of control and regulation comes into play. Irrespective of your stand on privacy, I find it difficult not to imagine the instances where there would be an endless number of governments, advertisers, insurers and marketers looking to take advantage of our biological cognitive faculty and using it as a means of frustrating evildoers and selling products to you.
Let us also consider this. What if this technology becomes normal to such an extent that it becomes compulsory for future generations to have full-brain implants at birth? This of course leaves so many frays unattended to and raises eye opening questions that go far beyond the technical hurdles that have to be seriously looked into. Even so, we need to think about these now.
Then there is the issue of security. In this our recent era of “smart”, it is not any wonder that a lot of smart things are exploitable. Whether it’s your phone, your TV or Tesla car, once you connect something to something else you have just opened up a means for it to be jeopardized. Thus, a life of privacy cannot be assured when Neuralink gets established.
Just as doors are not picky about who walks through them, so a door into your head raises some critical security questions. What forms would hacking take when you can have a direct link into the minds of other people and vice versa? We might face complex and overwhelming problems that we may well not have immediate solutions to but it is important that we ask good questions early and often.
Only time can tell us what the future holds. All we do now is hope for a better future, while we wait and watch as it unfolds before us. Of course, everything good thing has its bad sides. What is important now is for the developers of this ground breaking technology to work assiduously to drown its lurking ugly heads, so as to make the pros outweigh the cons. The future looks pretty exciting. Would you get a Neuralink implant for yourself?
- Markou, Christopher, University of Cambridge. "Neuralink wants to wire your brain to the internet – what could possibly go wrong?". Retrieved from https://www.imeche.org/news/news-article/neuralink-wants-to-wire-your-brain-to-the-internet-what-could-possibly-go-wrong. 03 May,2017.
2. Singupuram, Raghav and Sreemany, Aritra, ASME IIEST Shibpur Student Section. "Neuralink Explained: How Exactly Will We Talk To Machines Using Our Brain?". Retrieved from https://medium.com/the-treatise/neuralink-explained-how-exactly-will-we-talk-to-machines-using-our-brain-83f26e432650#:~:text=WHAT IS NEURALINK%3F&text=Neuralink is a device%2C specifically,and cure various medical problems. Oct 09, 2020
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