Did you know that the FDA has given the go-ahead for companies to turn human test subjects into cyborgs? Advancements in the tech industry are being made at an alarming rate, giving rise to difficult ethical issues, especially in the medical field. Currently, there is a race to develop brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) for a multitude of purposes. In today’s GKIS article, we discuss the possible benefits, risks, and ethical issues associated with developing such devices. If you are unsure of how to protect your tweens and teens growing reliance on technology and obsession with online presence, Dr. Bennett’s Social Media Readiness Online Course will give you the answers you are looking for and help you to navigate through these ever-changing waters!
What is a brain-computer interface?
A brain-computer interface (BCI) is a technological device that directly interacts with the brain with no noticeable lag time. These devices read the electrochemical signals of the brain and translate them to carry out a desired action. This action can be anything from moving a prosthetic limb to telepathic communication. The goal of these devices is to bypass the body’s natural pathways using technology. Up until recently, this was merely the stuff of science fiction fantasy, and comic books. Yet, with advances in processing speed and data storage, it’s become a reality.
Neuralink is a company created by Tesla founder and carnival showman, Elon Musk. The goal of this company is specifically to create BCIs. The current BCI that Neuralink is working on consists of a computer chip the size of a coin connected to extremely thin wires. The chip will be surgically implanted into the skull with the wires being inserted directly into the brain.
The original stated purpose of this company was the altruistic goal of helping disabled individuals regain lost function of limbs and mobility. Yet more recently, Elon Musk stated that the goal is “human enhancement.” In interviews, such as on Joe Rogan’s podcast, he spoke of telepathic communication and thinking capabilities to rival computer artificial intelligence (AI). Neuralink has been given FDA approval to start the human trial phase and is looking to begin drilling holes in test-subjects heads sometime this year.
Synchron is a much smaller company based in New York with a similar purpose of developing BCIs. Synchron’s flagship BCI, the Stentrode implant, is inserted through a vein and guided into the brain. Synchron has already successfully conducted clinical trials in Australia, inserting these devices into four human subjects suffering from severe paralysis. They have also been given FDA approval to begin human trials in the United States, which will take place at Mount Sinai Hospital and involve six subjects.
Though Sychron’s current goal is to allow disabled people to control digital devices with their brains and to improve their functional independence, their ultimate stated goal is to achieve whole-brain data transfer. What that means is they want to be able to transfer a human into a digital world.
Possible Benefits of BCIs
- Improving the lives of disabled individuals
- Faster access to information
- Telepathic communication
- Virtual immortality
Possible Risks of BCIs
- The exploitation of individuals with disabilities
- Risky surgery
- Disability or death
- A wider gap between the abilities of the wealthy and the poor
- Literal brain hacking
- Forever altering what it means to be human
Tech to BioTech
The biggest issue with BCIs requires a discussion in ethics. When it comes to ethical questions, we are in a truly unique situation. We have multi-million-dollar for-profit tech companies entering the medical field with end goals that are not medical in nature. Is it ethical for a tech company to perform risky experiments on individuals with disabilities when the end goal is profit and ultimately may not benefit the group initially being tested upon?
It could be argued that the initial experiments will benefit disabled subjects, which is ethically sound. Yet, several ethicists have concerns that the ultimate goal of this research is for commercial means, such as using the technology to be implemented into Tesla automobiles, rather than being purely medical in nature.Others have pointed out that this could be considered exploitative due to the potential for commercial gains in other areas of business.
Pain and Suffering
Recently, news broke that 15 of the 23 monkey test subjects that had the Neuralink chip implanted in their brains at UC Davis died horrible deaths. Since this news broke, UC Davis has been trying to distance itself from Neuralink. The surgical device that Neuralink created to perform the surgery is currently not approved for human trials since it is not okay to put humans through a medical trial where they are more likely to die or suffer from debilitating side effects than to receive any benefits.
The Opportunity Gap
Another ethical issue revolves around the potential societal effects if everything works out according to plan. There is already a huge gap between the haves and the have-nots, those with power and those without. What would happen if one could pay to be smarter, faster, and stronger? The opportunity gap would become insurmountable!
Privacy and Cybercrime
There is also the issue of privacy. All technology that can access the internet can be accessed by others. The most advanced encryption and security safeguards eventually become obsolete as technological advances are made that allow people to bypass them. Imagine if every thought or memory could be hacked and stolen from you. An entire person’s being could be manipulated, altered, or even held for ransom. Cybercrime is already an issue when it comes to ransomware, identity theft, and phishing scams. Think about the new problems that would arise if people’s brains were connected to the internet!
For every technological achievement, there is always someone who will use it for evil. BCIs could eventually be used for military applications. Powerful organizations could utilize this technology to create heavily modified super soldiers. The possibilities become endless when physical and mental enhancement is on the table.
I know this sounds crazy, like something out of a comic book. Yet, flying cars are currently being tested for manufacture by multiple auto companies. Thirty years ago, no one could have imagined where we would be today from a technological standpoint. As computer chips become smaller and more powerful, there is no telling where we will be by 2050. The question is now whether something should be possible rather than if it could be possible.
Dr. B is in a unique position to help you to learn more about the potential dangers that your family could face when engaging with technology. She can help you to navigate safely throughout your journey as a practicing psychologist, university professor, and mother.
In Dr. B’s book, Screen Time in the Mean Time, she discusses and attacks the issue of raising a family while safely integrating technology rather than fearing it. Also, you can download the free GKIS Connected Family Agreement simply by creating a GKIS account on our website home page. If you are looking for our most comprehensive toolkit to achieve screen safety and family cooperation, our Screen Safety Essentials Course offers useful tips about how to make the internet a safer place for your family with weekly parenting and family coaching videos, important teaching materials and infographics, webinars, articles, and other valuable information.
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
Works Cited Axe, D. (2022). Experts are ringing alarms about Elon Musk’s brain implants. The Daily Beast. https://www.thedailybeast.com/elon-musks-neuralink-inches-closer-to-human-trials-and-experts-are-ringing-alarms  Ryan, H. (2022). Elon Musk’s Neuralink admits monkeys died in project, denies animal cruelty claims. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/17/business/elon-musk-neuralink-animal-cruelty-intl-scli/index.html
Photo by National Cancer Institute (https://unsplash.com/photos/z8ofh6Zkn4k)
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Thanks to Kent Williams for the beautiful painting used for the thumbnail. (https://www.kentwilliams.com/paintings/2018/8/16/2018/8/16/m-w)