Neuralink, A New Controversy in Bioethics
In recent years the buzz surrounding artificial intelligence and neurotechnology has been nearly deafening. As scientists and researchers begin to obtain a better understanding of the human mind’s deepest intricacies, new technologies are beginning to emerge with the goal of expanding the limits of human intelligence. With these newest breakthroughs comes the industrial exploitation of these advanced technologies, as companies rush to provide the insatiable tech-savvy consumer with the next “revolutionary new product”. As more and more people cry for highly sophisticated and personalized devices, it is only a matter of time before these new technologically advanced products are integrated into our immediate lives. Even now, we have devices that can help keep track of our fitness and wellbeing, clean our floors, monitor our spending, even use our location to aide in navigation. Many of these devices have intricate programming with the ability to remember our previous purchases, interests, ideals, political views, and daily schedules in order to suggest products, services, and search results based off our individual patterns. Thus it should come with little surprise that as the average consumer demands more convenience and versatility in these machines, they tend to grow increasingly intimate. With the rise of artificial intelligence we are beginning to bridge the gap between the human mind and computers at an alarmingly quick rate. As this bridge between the digital and metaphysical worlds becomes a swiftly approaching reality, companies are quickly jumping on the bandwagon of progress and charging blindly into the unknown realm of technocracy.
One company in particular that is leading this charge is known as Neuralink, a somewhat secretive project lead by Elon Musk that’s main goal is to integrate computers and the human brain. In fact according to the mission statement of the company, found on their own website, “Neuralink is developing ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers.”. In essence, the program is seeking to create a human implant that blankets the brain and allows information to be downloaded directly from a computer, into the neurons. The device is called “Neura Lace” and could be readily available as an upgrade to the human mind in the near future. As far-fetched as this project may seem, it appears to be a growing reality in the scientific field as many other articles and reports have come out about this program, all voicing their support for the new technology. Many of these claim that the project would be a breakthrough in mental health treatment and a way to combat mental disorders like Parkinson's disease. Others insist that it is a necessity to keep up with the growing threat of artificial intelligence, to prevent the obsoletion of humanity and it’s limited intellect. As an entirely unprecedented and unpredictable future draws nearer and nearer, humanity seems to be accepting it with open arms. However, we must ask ourselves collectively if this is the future that we envision for our children and deeply consider the benefits and consequences of this intimacy between man and machine.
In an age of advanced technology and the internet, the access to true privacy is becoming scarce. Today nearly everything we do is monitored and recorded by large tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. These web-based companies store the data and personal information of its users within legal bounds by utilizing multi-paged, complexly worded, “Terms and Conditions”, aimed to discourage the users actual understanding of the legal ramifications and simply persuade the user to click “I Accept” at the bottom of the page. This allows these corporations to collect data from its users and use it to create a profile of the individual. The purpose of this profile is to give the search engine an idea of what the user’s interests are and adjust the search results accordingly. This has proven very beneficial to companies both large and small, since targeted advertising helps the consumer find the products they are interested in. It has also helped the consumer, not only in their search to find products they’re interested in, but also to find groups, articles, and events that they might be inclined to partake in. There are a few downsides to this system as well unfortunately, such as the manifestation of groupthink and the lack of diverse opinions on the internet caused by these type of interest-oriented search results. Perhaps this is somewhat responsible for much of the divisiveness in society today. As these websites continue to store our information and channel our internet usage based on our politics, interests, and daily patterns the ability to break out of our own cycles of thought becomes a relative impossibility.
There is no estimated quantity of data that is stored by the entirety of Google, however it is public knowledge that Gmail alone stores over 213 petabytes of data. To put this quantity in perspective, one petabyte is equal to one trillion kilobytes of data. According to LifeWire.com the average size of an email is about seventy five kilobytes, if this is true it would mean that Gmail alone is storing approximately 2,840,000,000,000 (nealy 3 trillion) emails. With all this data and information readily available to these massive companies and governmental organizations, much care must be taken to ensure that they are used fairly. With the recent controversies surrounding Google and Facebook both accused of attempting to corral certain thoughts and ideologies, as well as sell user’s personal data for financial incentives, it is quite alarming that they might eventually have direct access to our brains. If NeuraLink is successful at creating a device that can connect your brain directly to the internet what would protect our minds from becoming directly influenced by these big tech companies and government organizations? With all this data collected about the individual citizens of America, could our thoughts and ideologies become swayed or worse yet, controlled? Can we trust our government and large industries with not only our private information, but direct connection to our minds?
This is not the only type of threat that this new type of technology could manafest. Hacking has also sparked much controversy over the safety and security of the internet. With massive corporations, that are protected by thousands of dollars worth of antivirus and anti-hacking software, being breached by highly skilled criminals to steal personal information, intellectual property, and even possibly interfering in governmental proceeds, much concern in raised over the safety of a device like Neura Lace subjecting our very thoughts to the dangers of the internet. Data breaches and hacks of such large corporations has become common place despite scarce coverage by the mainstream media. Some companies that have fallen victim to such breaches include Marriott Hotels, Twitter, Yahoo, Uber, Health Equity Inc, even Healthcare.gov, all of which have experienced privacy breaches despite having some of the most advanced protective measures available. In fact according to Privacyrights.org there have been 609 hack related breeches in the past two years alone with a total of approximately nine hundred and fourteen million total records leaked. This being said, what additional protections would be in place to prevent a hacker from compromising the Neura Lace interface? If a hacker was able to hack the system or even just an individual unit, what repercussions would it generate? Could the hacker then control the thoughts and opinions of the individual? Could they use the interface to alter the behavior of, harm, or even kill a victim by activating certain parts of the brain? The possibilities are quite unsettling to imagine. What advancements in safety would need to be installed in order to properly ensure the safety of the user? Will there be a fail proof emergency safety system to ensure that a hack could not occur? With so many questions about the safety of this type of technology, we must weigh the benefits with the consequences. Is the pursuit of infinite knowledge and advanced technology worth the safety and privacy of the citizens that it benefits? Should we trust the government and large corporations with access to our thoughts and ideas? As we continue to race toward the coming technological revolution the decision is ours to make.