Elon Musk Embarks towards a New Frontier: Your Brain
Business dynamo and self-proclaimed engineer Elon Musk has perhaps explored almost every frontier imaginable. He’s helped push the limits of private space exploration with SpaceX, improved eCommerce transactions with PayPal, and most recognizably taken Tesla Inc, from a niche electric car manufacturer to a viable alternative to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles that seemingly everyone wants their hands on. Another frontier he is tackling is the human brain with his Neuralink company. Neuralink is a neurotechnology that wants to implement a brain-computer interface (BCI) via tiny electrodes, with the aim of establishing direct communication between the human brain and computers. Neuralink’s aim is also to potentially cure and/or treat paralysis, and depression along with other various neurological conditions.
Given that AI is becoming more relevant by the day, the ability to improve ourselves via neurological augmentation seems incredibly enticing. However, many people have voiced their concerns over privacy, the FDA has also expressed concerns over the electrode’s potential to move to other areas of the brain, or the components overheating. Other concerns stem from the alarming number of animals killed during the testing of neuralink. Even given those limitations, Neuralink has recently been approved for human trials by the FDA, and that’s extremely encouraging for those suffering with neurological conditions such as paralysis. However, for people looking for an advantage in the way they think or retrieve information, I’m curious whether or not they are considering the great risks integrating your brain with computers may pose to their well-being.
Technology is a great asset humans have utilized to optimize and automate their routines, gather information in milliseconds, fly all over the world in mere hours, and find the causes and cures for thousands of ailments and diseases. Unfortunately, technology has also been used by bad actors to inflict harm. Take for example, the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline in the Spring of 2021. The entire Eastern Seaboard was scrambling and much of it without sufficient sources of fuel. This led to millions of people hopping from gas station to gas station, sometimes dozens of miles away, to locate fueling stations. Apple AirTags are GPS geotags utilized to locate lost items without GPS, such as your keys, wallet, and other valuables. Criminals found these gadgets very useful, as they are also being used to place on vehicles so they can be stolen at a later time. Baby monitors and interior cameras can be hacked by criminals to indicate whether or not you are home.
Hackers have also developed devices that can communicate over radio frequencies and control those devices with ease. The Flipper Zero is one such device. People have used the Flipper Zero for harmless fun such as spoofing RFID cards at arcades, remotely control TVs, and change electronic signage in stores and gas stations, etc… However, the Flipper Zero has also been utilized to unlock car doors, and control some traffic lights that use RF or IR. The risk posed by these devices is that they have the potential to enable criminals and bad actors. While thus far, the examples I provided were mostly related to lost capital or goods, the danger associated with a BCI integrated brain being compromised by a bad actor could be far worse.
Monkey using neuralink to produce keyboard input with his mind.
Neuralink is said to communicate with devices using electronic signals. One such example was a video, shown by Musk, showing a monkey typing input on a keyboard using only the monkey’s mind. The video is awe-inspiring and also simultaneously harrowing. What protects the electronic signals from being intercepted is unclear. What if a bad actor could intercept the signals transmitted from Neuralink and utilize bad input that changes the way you think, or even involuntarily change the way you move? The risk that someone could potentially manipulate your brain via these BCI devices is incredibly scary. If those concerns are found to be valid, would you take the chance for higher neurological function to potentially open your brain to criminals? Hopefully these risks will be mitigated by Musk and Co., otherwise the risks may lead to grave consequences.