Chips in the brain: implications for humanity

Scientists are studying the question of what will happen if every representative of human civilization is given an implant in the brain.

Progress in the field of brain-computer interface (BCI) brain implants can affect the fate of all mankind, and this influence is not always predictable. Thus, Mr. Musk’s company Neuralink has been working on introducing chips into the brains of living beings since 2016. Last December, Elon Musk announced that his company would begin human trials within the next six months. However, the head of Neuralink is not talking about the immediate prospects for the first time, but so far it has not come to human trials.

Neuralink has spent several years trying to figure out how to digitize brain signals. The company’s immediate goals are to implant a chip that will allow you to move the cursor without the help of hands only with the power of thought, as well as write text messages, also only with the power of thought.

Currently, the emphasis is on medical applications of the solution, which will enable completely paralyzed people to communicate. But Elon Musk expects that the use of such chips will become mainstream and that perfectly healthy citizens will also use a similar solution.

Among the brain implants that are being worked on in different companies around the world are Parkinson’s disease, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and epilepsy. In addition to Neuralink, the companies Paradromics, Blackrock Neurotech, Magnus Medical, Synchron are working on the creation of implants that help paralyzed people. There are also developments in the field of implants to combat blindness. In one form or another, brain medical implants have already been installed in about 200 thousand people around the world.

In general, as calculated by Grand View Research, the market for brain implants (Brain-Computer Interface, BCI) in 2021 amounted to $4.9 billion.

Many expect that medical applications will not be limited, and that brain implants will allow the integration of brain activity with applications on digital devices, so that you can type with your mind, play games, and search. In the future, it may come to the means of controlling virtual reality glasses built into the brain. In an even more distant future, it is predicted to receive data directly to the brain without the participation of eyes / ears and the use of media such as paper, screen or headphones.

However, opponents of such forecasts note that it is completely unknown how long-term implantation will end for such a delicate substance as the brain. It is reported that so far there have been no cases of serious impairment of the brain activity of people as a result of the introduction of implants. But numerous cases of cognitive changes in such patients have been recorded.

Brain implant affects personality

So, some of the consequences were really positive, patients with Parkinson’s syndrome noted clear improvements from the presence of an implant that stimulated their brain activity with electrical impulses. Improvements were also noted by patients with depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some patients noted an increased feeling that the situation was under control and a growing autonomy.

But there are also philosophical questions. Some patients have begun to speculate about “them”, “their depression”, and “the implant”, sharing all three of these concepts.

There were more disturbing calls. For example, Frederic Gilbert, a professor of philosophy at the University of Tasmania who has studied this topic in depth, noticed that a number of strange effects are observed in patients with brain implants.

So, he noted changes in the personality of a number of patients and new features in their sexuality.

Some patients said they “do not recognize themselves.” At the same time, such patients knew that they were still them, but that they were no longer the same as they were before the introduction of brain implants. For some, the condition worsened, they felt more and more like strangers, in some cases this even led to attempts to “get rid of this stranger.”

Some felt that they supposedly had new abilities. So, one woman was injured, because she felt that she could supposedly rearrange heavy furniture herself.

Experts note that when it comes to seriously ill people, their life and death, the benefits outweigh the negative effects, but the installation of implants in healthy people should be a repeatedly considered step.

In addition, some experts point out that many of us are addicted to our smartphones. And this effect can be even stronger when it comes to brain implants.

Thus, a case was recorded when a patient with a brain implant developed some “decision paralysis”, he believed that before any action he should consult with his “brain friend”. What happens if this brain implant has to be removed?

In general, there are quite a lot of cases when the patient eventually convinced himself that he cannot function at all without his implant. When such people had their implants removed for some reason (often because the brain implant was placed on a temporary basis according to a grant issued by the researchers), the patients became depressed. “You gradually grow into the implant and get used to it. He became a part of me,” said one of the patients who received an implant to detect signs of epileptic activity.

These psychological difficulties are compounded by the fact that placing an implant and removing it is invasive surgery on the brain, which is, to put it mildly, not easy. Currently, quite a few projects are suddenly deprived of funding, and patients – the usual device in their heads.

IS and brain implants

Also, some patients are afraid of privacy, and privacy of the most sensitive kind – that someone does not know what is going on in their head and what they are thinking. “A device that allows you to mentally control a prosthetic arm can “eavesdrop” on something else, something superfluous,” patients think. Interestingly, the “noise” of the brain is not yet deciphered, but it can be stored somewhere in the cloud, and one day progress will make it possible to understand what was there, what the patient was thinking about.

All in all, before a brain implant becomes a commercial product available to all users, there are still many ethical issues to be resolved.

Published on 16.02.2023

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