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Evaluating the pros and cons of Elon Musk’s Neuralink

By Kristen Dalida and Kate Goshko

Staff Writers

Imagine a world where the entire Internet is only a thought away, literally. Neuralink, a neurotechnology company, is optimistic that this may be in the foreseeable future. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, co-founded Neuralink in 2016 and is working with neurotechnology to develop a wireless brain-chip. The Neuralink website said it could “let you control a computer or mobile device anywhere you go.”

The company wrote its goal is to “help people with paralysis to regain independence through the control of computers and mobile devices.” 

The New York Post reported Mr. Musk’s explanation of the Neuralink implantation process: “It basically implant[s] in your skull. You basically take out a chunk of the skull, put the Neuralink device in there and insert the electrothreads very carefully into the brain.” 

Mr. Musk continued, “And then you stitch it up, and you wouldn’t even know that somebody has it. It can interface basically anywhere in your brain.”

According to CNBC, Mr. Musk boasted that “Neuralink could allow humans to send concepts to one another using telepathy and exist in a ‘saved state’ after they die that could then be put into a robot or another human.” 

The brain-chip was tested on pigs in an interview Mr. Musk had in Aug. 2020. In the interview, Mr. Musk showed three pigs. One pig, named Gertrude, had a brain-chip implanted in her for two months. The neuralink connected to the neurons in Gertrude’s snout. 

In the interview video, Mr. Musk explained, “Whenever she snuffles around and touches something with her snout, that sends out neural spikes.” Mr. Musk showed Gertrude’s brain activity. “She’s had the implant for two months so this is a healthy and happy pig.”

There have been many reactions to the brain-chip from the public. Many people are excited about all the possibilities this could open up, but others are concerned and worried about how this may negatively impact our world. 

We were given the opportunity to ask Sriram Jayabal about Neuralink and neurotechnology as a whole. Dr. Jayabal is a postdoctoral research associate under the department of neurobiology at Stanford University School of Medicine. He earned a Ph.D degree in neuroscience and a Bachelor of Technology degree, along with many awards.

Dr. Jayabal believes that “Mr. Musk is doing an amazing job introducing neurotech to the world.” He further stated that Elon Musk’s success from Tesla and SpaceX was able to give him a platform for people to become “more aware of new technologies in neurotech.” 

He commented that Neuralink’s goals are very admirable, yet we are many years away from seeing this type of technology in actual action due to the neuroscience not being advanced enough for it, “Since our understanding of the brain is not complete yet, caution needs to be exercised before any technology can be commercialized, especially pertaining to the evaluation of intended and unintended consequences.”

Elon Musk, serial entrepreneur, at TED2013: The Young, The Wise, The Undiscovered. PHOTO CREDIT: James Duncan Davidson

When asked about the downsides of neurotechnology in society, Summit Denali High School student Keila Dalida worried that “there could be malfunctions in that technology.”

Dr. Jayabal also brought up the possibility of being able to download peoples’ memories and thoughts. He worried about privacy if this were to be successful.

In an interview with Mr. Musk, he had replied to a question asked to him with, “You could basically store your memories as a backup and restore the memories then ultimately you could potentially download them into a new body or into a robot body.” 

However, Dr. Jayabal also believes that there are benefits to this type of technology. He mentioned neurotechnology helping people with Parkinson’s disease. “Deep brain stimulation, an already existing practice for treating Parkinson’s disease is a great example of the potential that could arise from such technology.”

According to JNS, Deep Brain Stimulation was invented in 1987. It was first used for movement disorders and is now known to be used for “Parkinson disease, essential tremor, and dystonia.”

Dr. Jayabal hopes that we can better understand the way the brain works and the malfunctions of the brain in neurological conditions. He accentuates the importance of testing in order to minimize the risks of this technology. “Better understanding of the human brain can lead to better AI, and better learning strategies for humans too,” he said. “If not now, but in time, I do think that neurotechnology has the potential to redefine how humans live.”

When asked whether or not he would utilize the brain chips services, should it be introduced to the public, “Not in its current state,” Dr. Jayabal said. “With rigorous testing and research, and upon a more thorough characterization of the benefits versus risks, I will be in a much better situation to make an informed decision.”

From a consumer’s standpoint, a similar opinion was reiterated by Dalida, who responded with, “It really depends because there could be side-effects of it despite it being helpful for myself in the future.”

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