The overall arc of technology in recent years has been to make technology ever-smaller and more integrated into our lives. We have seen phones progress from brick-sized methods for talking to someone over long distances to tiny integrated devices, containing our camera, phone, credit cards, banking details: basically anything that makes us, us. So, technology has been becoming ever-closer to us, but what if it was under our skin?
In 2016, Elon Musk announced his Neuralink venture. He describes the device as the ‘Link’. It is a 2cm disk that is implanted in the skull. Using wires, the Link is able to record 1,024 different channels of neural activity in the brain and they also allow it to stimulate parts of the brain. The main advantage of this over standard deep brain stimulation devices is that is implanted in the skull directly, instead of the chest, as with current devices. This is a big advantage as it may allow for Link implantation to be an outpatient procedure, letting a patient walk out with their shiny new Link the very same day they get it implanted.
It’s important to note that while previous devices have been tech devices by the medical community, for the medical community, the Neuralink is by the tech industry, for the medical industry. While implantable medical devices are generally designed to last forever, the tech industry is infamous for upgrades and replacements. Elon Musk has mentioned that while the Link is currently designed for some neurological problems such as blindness or paralysis, they will also be looking at expanding the Link to autism treatment or even brain-to-device communication.
While this device could be a huge step forward in the treatment of neurological conditions, it may also provide a doorway into a world of even deeper privacy violations. During the Neuralink’s live-streamed update several days ago, the efficacy of the Link was demonstrated on some live pigs. While they were unharmed and happily walking around, the Neuralink was showing live brain activity of what the pig was doing, from sniffing to walking around. In a world where medical data have been broken over time and time again, one has to consider what this could mean when technology can see directly into our brain.