At A Glance – Neurotech

Expect to see exponential growth in brain related technologies

Neurotechnology, or neurotech, is an umbrella term for any kind of technology which helps us to understand or medically treat the brain. Whilst this field has been fairly limited in scope since its inception around fifty years ago, neurotechnology is now coming into its own. Pharmaceuticals, brain imaging and the rehabilitation of the brain after damage are now commonplace, and the boundaries of neurotech are being pushed like never before. Understanding the way our brains work in greater detail is unquestionably beneficial, but the future of neurotech is starting to sound like science fiction.

In May this year, billionaire tech magnate Elon Musk launched Neuralink, a company which seeks to develop a brain-computer interface (BCI). BCIs with limited applications are in use today: a few patients around the world with paralysis or prosthetic limbs have been fitted with the robotic devices, which have granted them limited movement. Implants are also becoming more common in the treatment of neurological diseases such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s. But Musk’s vision is greater. He wants to develop neural lace – an interface which allows people to communicate with computers as if they were an extension of their own brains.

As Artificial Intelligence continues to rapidly develop, a brain-to-computer interface like that envisaged by Musk would help to keep humans on top amidst the rise of the robots. By linking our brain computing power with the machines, we would have the neurological ability necessary to keep them in check. However, the use of brain-computer interfaces to improve neurological performance is clearly a legislative and ethical nightmare. Where would the person end and the robot begin? What if companies were able to access your neural data, and influenced your mental experience? How would we ever be able to determine what was real? It all comes back to the moral grey area surrounding the use of AI.