Elon Musk has unveiled a pig called Gertrude with a coin-sized computer chip in her brain to demonstrate the prototype for ambitious plans to create a working brain-to-machine interface.
The news comes a little over a month after Musk announced his latest start-up, Neuralink, was in the process of developing a brain-computer interface that allegedly has a ‘life-changing’ range of benefits – including the ability to stream music straight into your brain.
Neuralink, which has already received more than $158 million in funding, demonstrated a passel of Yucatan swine during an event on Saturday afternoon at their headquarters.
Several of them had previously undergone a surgical procedure in which a robot placed the latest version of Neuralink’s computing implant into their brains.
As a result, the brain activity of these ‘enhanced pigs’ could be transmitted wirelessly to a nearby computer, allowing onlookers at the event to watch the animals’ neurons fire in live time:
During the presentation, Musk revealed new data points around his expectations for the technology and Neuralink as a company. Once shrouded in mystery, the company is starting to peel back.
Musk spoke enthusiastically at the event about the potential for the technology to address brain injuries and other disorders. “The neurons are like wiring, and you sort of need an electronic thing to solve an electronic problem,” he said.
He expects the implant procedure to start out quite pricey but to come down to “a few thousand dollars” over time. It is the first stage towards fulfilling the company’s vision for human brain chips.
Once it’s able to fit into humans, he expects them to be able to update their devices as new models come out with more features — just like a smartphone device.
Neuralink’s dream is largely expanding upon mainstream medical research into the field of neurotechnology, which is more centered towards application for diseases — rather than for advanced consumer and communications products.
The company says it is dedicated to “connecting our minds to computing capabilities”.
They will achieve this by creating devices that can be implanted in the human brain, with the purpose of helping human beings merge with software and keep pace with AI advancements.
Neuralink has developed flexible ‘threads’ that can be implanted into a brain and have a vision to one day allow you to control your smartphone or computer with just your thoughts.
The technology being developed by Neuralink will allow humans to integrate with computers to access and process information just as well as our AI counterparts.
“Over time, I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence.
It’s mostly about the bandwidth, the speed of the connection between your brain and the digital version of yourself, particularly output.”
Neuralink was registered in California as a ‘medical research’ company, and the billionaire plans on funding the company mostly by himself.
A booming industry that will transform the world — and Neuralink is not alone in their quests.
It should come as no surprise that, as commercial neuro-research has increased over the last decade, other tech conglomerates are also attempting to harness the technology.
Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has a sister company that is funding research on BIC devices able to pick up thoughts directly from your neurons and translate them into words. The researchers say they have already built an algorithm that can decode words from brain activity.
Could Facebook be testing new their research through Facebook and subsidiary companies such as Instagram in secret? Would this explain user-reported appearances of ads for products they were thinking about? We already know screens have the ability to manipulate the nervous system.
Social media companies can already use personal data to bring about mass influence of emotions, particularly with pregnancy or suicidal ideation. Could BCI technology push this even further?
Not only big tech cashing in on the new phenomenon, reports are beginning to emerge that suggest governments are now incorporating BCI research into various programs.
In China, the government has introduced measures to allow them to mine data from a worker’s brains by having them wear caps that scan brainwaves for depression, anxiety, rage, or fatigue. Companies can decide if they want you to wear an EEG headset to monitor your attention levels.
In the West, the US military is also looking into neurotechnologies to make soldiers ‘more fit’ for duty, including ways to make them less empathetic and more belligerent. Interesting when you consider military deployment during the COVID-19 saga.
In addition, there are also many military-funded research programs to see if decreases in attention levels and concentration can be monitored, as well as hybrid BCIs that can ‘write’ to the brain to ‘increase alertness’ through neuromodulation.
These companies and departments are making fast progress with their plans, and soon, instead of devices reading your thoughts — they might actually do some of the thinking for you.
Brain data is the ultimate refuge of privacy. When that goes, everything goes. Once brain data is collected on a large scale, it’s going to be very hard to reverse the process.
Neuroethicist, Marcello Ienca, published a paper in 2017 detailing four human rights for the neurotechnology age that he believes need to be protected by law — designed to protect against commercialisation of brain data in the consumer market.
In the future, if profound technical and legal questions are not seriously addressed before these products are released, the human brain — final frontier of privacy — may not be private much longer.
BCI technology is already being floated as a ‘solution’ for tracking COVID-19 patients. Who is to say these devices won’t become commonplace and legislated into society?
We only have to look to George Orwell’s concept of the Thought Police in Nineteen-Eighty Four to understand where this scenario could potentially lead with no privacy safeguards.
This type of presentation may seem ‘bizarre’ now, but it should not be taken lightly.
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