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The South African billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk is making bold moves to leverage technology to help cure neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s, dementia, and spinal cord injuries. He is making these moves through his neuroscience startup Neuralink, of which he is a co-founder. This company is namely advancing in its goal to implant wireless computer chips in human brains to prevent the appearance of these conditions in a person’s lifetime.
Musk even goes as far as to say that these devices can help solve ailments such as memory loss, hearing loss, depression, and insomnia.
While this invention may have some Black Mirror overtones, this is hardly a novel concept. Small devices that electronically stimulate brain areas have been implanted in humans since the 1980s to treat hearing loss and Parkinson’s disease. But, of course, the implications remain groundbreaking.
However, many in the neuroscientist community do have their misgivings. While the test trials, in which they planted the devices in the brains of pigs, have shown some promising signs, neuroscientists are not at all warm to Musk’s intimations that human trials are in the offing. They consider this assertion overly ambitious, to say the least.
And that’s to say nothing of the practical bottlenecks. The scientists at Neuralink namely still have yet to solve a host of issues before this device gets anywhere near a human test subject. These include the quality of measurements from the device, the development of machine-learning algorithms to interpret brain signals it transmits, and, most important of all, preventing any scarring in the brain tissue around it when it is implanted.
Using technology to cure Alzheimer’s and other mental conditions — conditions that up until now had been deemed incurable and have caused many loved ones of those afflicted so much suffering over the years — would be a godsend. But only if every necessary precaution is taken before rolling these devices out. But of course, this raises ethical concerns — those are humans you are testing these devices on to ‘work out the bugs.’ Is the cost too high for this technological progress?