Elizabeth Modic

As medical procedures shift to more minimally invasive and catheter-based technology and devices become increasingly smaller and more portable, the push for lighter and more robust components continues. Seventeen years ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved deep-brain stimulation (DBS) as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease and today it’s used to treat depression, epilepsy, obsessive compulsive disorder, and more.

Advancements in miniaturization are also supporting projects such as the Restoring Active Memory (RAM) program funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Its aim is to mitigate effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in military service members with neurotechnologies that facilitate memory formation and recall. DARPA’s end goal with RAM is a wireless, fully implantable neural interface for human clinical use. Expanding upon this, researchers are integrating computational models into implantable, closed-loop systems to deliver targeted neural stimulation to restore normal memory function. Last year, researchers successfully implemented a proof-of-concept system for restoring and improving memory function in humans, facilitating memory encoding using the patient’s own hippocampal spatiotemporal neural codes.

And then there’s Elon Musk’s idea, “symbiosis with artificial intelligence (AI).” Yes, the futurist billionaire behind Tesla, SpaceX, and Neuralink (founded in 2016) wants to implant a Bluetooth-enabled chip (featuring a USB-C port) connected to 1,000 wires, measuring one-tenth the width of a human hair, into your brain that will connect to a small computer worn over the ear. The implant will be small, requiring only a 2mm incision to insert because, as Musk muses, “If you’re going to stick something in a brain, you want it not to be large… you have no wires poking out of your head. That’s very important.”

While Neuralink’s focus is to understand and treat brain disorders, Musk’s presentation focused more on preserving and enhancing the brain while also “creating a well-aligned future” in the face of humanity that’s at risk of being left behind because of advancement in AI. He says even if AI’s impact is benign, “With a high-bandwidth brain-machine interface, I think we can actually go along with the ride and have the option of merging with AI.” The “ride” we go along with could mean AI’s connection with your brain, a Tesla, or both – one way to advance self-driving cars – but either way I say no thanks!

This raises alarms and seems like an open door for cybercriminals to get brain data if someone “chooses” to interface with a computer. Then there are the ethical questions: Could your data be used to influence, manipulate, and control you? Who will have access to that data? Can it be shared?

Many medical issues are successfully treated with neural implants, but medical differs from allowing Musk access to your mind. Are you ready for symbiosis with AI?

Elizabeth Engler Modic, Editor