Billionaire Elon Musk’s brain chip company Neuralink has implanted its device in a human for the first time, despite warnings from health professionals and a call for caution from a world renowned Australian Christian futurist who welcomes the technology, but fears it could pose an extreme danger to humanity if it falls into the wrong hands.
Neuralink hopes its mind-reading, brain-mimicking computer chips will help people deal with paralysis or other debilitating conditions, including degenerative diseases like ALS, also known as motor neurone disease. Mr. Musk has explained that if the technology functions appropriately, patients could someday use the implant to communicate or access social media by moving cursors and typing with their minds. “Imagine if [the paralysed late scientist] Stephen Hawking could have communicated faster than a speed typist or an auctioneer. That is the goal,” he explained.
The Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has expressed concerns about the brain chip venture. It suggested that such implanted devices “risk problems, including being difficult to repair and having a high potential for severe medical complications in patients.”
Neuralink’s competitors like Synchron, Precision Neuroscience, Paradromics and Blackrock Neurotech are also seeking a slice of the potentially hugely lucrative Brain Computer Interface (BCI) industry which “deciphers brain signals” and translates them into commands for external devices. Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology is being integrated into the BCIs to enhance their interpretive capacity. Researchers are also examining whether BCIs could help blind people see.
Neuralink began recruiting patients for its first in-human clinical trial last year after it received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct the study in May. The clinical trial marks just the first step in Neuralink’s eventual path toward commercialisation.
A patient who received Synchron’s BCI used it to post from a Twitter account in 2021. Precision Neuroscience carried out its first in-human clinical study last year. Paradromics is reported to be aiming to launch its first trial with human patients in the first half of this year.
London-based Australian-born Christian futurist Mal Fletcher who was the founding national director of Youth Alive Australia in the 1980s, warns AI brain implants could blur the understanding of what it means to be human and has urged Christians to actively engage in the debate on the technology. The social commentator and technology expert told Premier Christian News that while it has “great potential benefits”, he’s concerned about its vulnerability to dangerous ownership.
He said many questions need answers before it can be approved, such as: “Who owns the data generated by my thoughts? Do I own it? Does Neuralink own it? And might some third party like a marketing company or even a government agency be able to get access to it? I think the possibilities for what we call ‘technology creep’ here are endless, you know, technology introduced for one purpose may then be used for a different purpose without any open debate.”
Mr. Fletcher explained that BCI developers would have far greater scope to control the brain than previously tested technology as it would not be limited to specialised areas, but could instead communicate wirelessly to different areas of the brain. It, therefore, runs the risk of “blurring the line between human and machine.”
“We already treat phones as an extension of our physiology, but at least we can turn them off or leave them at home in a bedroom drawer. Building tech into the human body raises the possibility that we might become hackable and trackable devices. Some people argue that the line between humans and tech is no longer important. I happen to believe it is,” he asserted.
Mr. Fletcher explained to Premier that companies and governments need to broaden out the debates over the technology to include philosophers, physicists, people who are involved in medicine, and even theology, in order to draw ethical guidelines that define and protect “what it means to be human.”
He also urged Christians to look to Psalm 24 which he believes discourages us from burying one’s head in the sand over such issues. The first verse reads: The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it (NIV).
The futurist points out: “So the whole earth belongs to the Lord, not just the church, not just things concerned with spiritual aspects of life, but all of life He created and all of it belongs to Him. Ultimately, our job is to be good stewards of that.”
“So, as Christians, our responsibility is not to retreat into just personal piety, but to engage with the civic authorities and those who make the choices that affect people’s lives and, in fact, reflect how people will respond to the message we’re given,” he concluded.