Are we ready for brain-controlled computing?
Neuralink, the latest startup by Tesla founder Elon Musk, has taken artificial intelligence (AI) to the next level by creating a Brain Machine Interface (BMI) – brain implants that can connect to a computer interface. This may sound like something that is of the distant future, but this kind of technology could become reality sooner than expected.
While presenting his new startup, Musk announced that he is looking to start trialing the product on the human brain by the end of 2020. The purpose behind this radical new technology is to create, in his words, a ‘superhuman intelligence’ that will enable humans to achieve a ‘symbiosis with artificial intelligence’. The technology will work by implanting flexible electrode threads into the human brain via a neurosurgical robot. These threads will then detect electrical signals in the brain and transmit this information outside of the body. In theory, the user will be able to control a computer with the device in their brain. Musk also aims to assist those with brain or spinal-related disorders with this technology.
Given the nature of this technology, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding Neuralink. Many critics believe that Musk is too hasty in introducing this kind of technology to the general consumer and there are many red flags that need addressing.
The primary issue for many is the invasive nature of the product and how safe it is. Although Neuralink isn’t the first BMI product, it is the first product of its kind that is intended to be used by the general public and it uses significantly more electrodes than existing techniques. The brain also treats probes as foreign invaders, so it’s likely that scar tissue will grow around the probes and affect the brain’s ability to carry out clear signals. Overall, the technology requires a lot of precision and carries several risks. This kind of technology may be beneficial for medical purposes, but it might be an unnecessary risk for people to use on a personal level.
There is also the big question of how users’ data will be utilised and who will benefit from it. Tech companies are under fire for how they handle our data, so it’s only natural we question why a big corporation wants to use such invasive technology on us.
Ben Lamm, who is also a CEO of a successful AI company, has a number of reservations about Elon Musk’s ambitious plans and his urgency to get the product out there, saying: “I have no doubt that a merge with advanced computing is inevitable – but that should not be productized until extensive forecasting and failure-proofing ensures that it is safe.”
He also believes that such technology can expose us to such security breaches as third-party app integration, the sale of brain data and even remote hacking.
As a society, we are still getting to grips with the technology that is currently available and the risks it poses. In the unlikely event that Musk does stick to his time frame of trialing the product by the end of 2020, we could be opening ourselves up to risks that we are simply not prepared for.