Imagine being able to walk into a strip-mall and have thousands of microscopically-fine electrodes inserted into your brain, all implanted as quickly and as efficiently as if you were having LASIK eye surgery, and designed to boost your brain from a simple smartphone app.
Until this week, this was the stuff of science fiction. Yet at a launch event this past Tuesday, the company Neuralink — founded by Elon Musk — claimed they were on track to achieve this and more over the next few years.
Neuralink’s brain-machine interface technology is deeply impressive. Using Musk’s now familiar model of bringing together new talent from different fields to accelerate the rate of technological innovation, the company has made massive strides in what is achievable. But despite the technical promise of wireless read-write brain-machine interfaces, companies like Neuralink are in danger of getting so wrapped up in what they can do, that they lose sight of the ethics behind what they should do
The ethics of neurotechnology
In my 2018 book, Films from the Future, I wrote about what we then knew about Musk’s creation of a neural lace, a term that comes from the science fiction of Iain M. Banks and describes a future brain-computer interface. But now that the future is a little closer, I have some more thoughts on the potential risks and ethical issues surrounding Neuralink. Although we’re still discovering how important our whole body is in influencing who we are, we still think of our brain as the organ that ultimately defines us. This is where the roots of our sense of self and identity lie, where we receive and process data, where our intellect and reason are seated, and where our deepest feelings and aspirations reside.