I admit to a kind of sneaky admiration for Elon Musk much of the time. He’s kind of the real-world Tony Stark, and I like how his FY-money gives him license to tweak proggy politicians, which he does.
But this, which I gather is one of his ventures, really seems like a bad idea. Here’s how it works:
We’re designing the first neural implant that will let you control a computer or mobile device anywhere you go.
Micron-scale threads are inserted into areas of the brain that control movement. Each thread contains many electrodes and connects them to an implant, the Link.
The threads on the Link are so fine and flexible that they can’t be inserted by the human hand. Instead, we are building a robotic system that the neurosurgeon can use to reliably and efficiently insert these threads exactly where they need to be.
Here’s the onion:
Neuralink is building a fully integrated brain machine interface (BMI) system. Sometimes you’ll see this called a brain computer interface (BCI). Either way, BMIs are technologies that enable a computer or other digital device to communicate directly with the brain. For example, through information readout from the brain, a person with paralysis can control a computer mouse or keyboard. Or, information can be written back into the brain, for example to restore the sense of touch. Our goal is to build a system with at least two orders of magnitude more communication channels (electrodes) than current clinically-approved devices. This system needs to be safe, it must have fully wireless communication through the skin, and it has to be ready for patients to take home and use on their own. Our device, called the Link, will be able to record from 1024 electrodes and is designed to meet these criteria.
What could possibly go wrong?
I’m far from an expert on these kinds of things. I’m a biologist by training, but my particular field was field zoology and behavior, and it’s been years and years since I did any actual work in the field, although I try to stay current. So, neurophysiology isn’t exactly my cup of tea.
But I’m concerned. Could this be back-hacked? It’s relying on a wireless signal. Could someone literally put a thought in your head? Or just give you a bad headache? Or, looking at it from the other direction, could someone take control of your phone or other devices through this system?
Granted that latter one can happen in a number of ways already; it’s a risk we take when using modern tech. But the “brain implant” part of it, to me, seems fraught.
If folks choose to do this kind of thing, fine. Every cat its own rat. But you can count me out.