“It became me”: Research shows that new brain chips can alter your mind in bizarre and troubling ways.

Study after study shows that Elon Musk’s new tech can alter your mind in bizarre and troubling ways.

Elon Musk would like to implant a computer chip into your brain. Maybe not in your mind, but in the brains of humans.

Since its inception in 2016, Musk’s startup Neuralink has been trying to implant its skull-embedded brainchip in a human. After years of testing on animals, Musk announced that the company would begin human trials within six to eight months.

Neuralink spent more than a half a century trying to figure out how to convert brain signals into digital outputs. Imagine being able move a cursor and send a message or enter a word processor with just one thought. Musk is aiming to make Neuralink’s chips more mainstream. He said that he wants to put a “Fitbit” in your skull.

Musk’s company is not the only one working on brain-computer interfacing systems, which allow for direct communication between brains and computers. BCIs have also been explored by other researchers to control prosthetic limbs and restore lost senses. Although these technologies are still very new, researchers have been able to gain a better understanding of how neural implants interacts with our brains for a while. Anna Wexler is an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy. She stated that “Of course it creates changes.” It is important to ask what kind of changes it causes and how significant are those changes.

Interfering with the delicate brain function of a person is a tricky business. The effects can be undesirable or not intended. BCIs can cause people to feel dependent on the devices or alter their self-perception. It is important to understand the risks and ethical pitfalls of BCIs before people rush to get their smartphone implanted into their brains.

From science-fiction to a billion dollar industry

The 1974 film “The Terminal Man” features a man who receives an invasive brain implant for his seizures. The operation appears to be a success at first, but he becomes psychotic after prolonged exposure to the implant. A scientist warns the audience of the danger early in the movie, comparing the implant to the lobotomies in the 1940s and 1950s. He says, “They created an unknown amount of human vegetables.” “Those operations were performed by doctors who were too eager for action.”

Although humans have not yet been able to build flying cars or send missions to Mars, and while replicants are possible, BCIs could be the most important technology to catch up to, and sometimes surpass, early sci-fi representations. BCIs are used by more than 200 million people worldwide, mainly for medical purposes. Cochlear implants are perhaps the most well-known. These devices allow deaf individuals to hear in a way that is. A third important use case is epileptic-seizure preventive: Devices that monitor brain-signal activity can predict seizures and alert the person so they can avoid certain activities, or take preventative medication. Researchers have suggested systems to detect and prevent seizures using electrical stimulation. This is almost identical to the mechanism described in “The Terminal Man.” Human trials of implants for Parkinson’s, OCD, OCD and epilepsy have been ongoing for many years.

The devices are now less intrusive and more scalable thanks to recent advances in artificial intelligence and neural probing materials. This has attracted both private and military funding. Paradromics and Blackrock Neurotech are just some of the venture-backed competitors who work on paralyzed persons’ devices. Science , a startup that specializes in bioelectric interfaces for blindness, unveiled last November. Magnus Medical received approval by the Food and Drug Administration to target brain stimulation therapy for major depression disorder.

Neuralink has, however, been plagued by a historyof overhyped promises. failed to deliver on timelines, and was reportedly triggering an investigation into allegations of animal-welfare abuses. Grand View Research, a market-intelligence company, estimated that the global market for brain-implants was worth $4.9 billion by 2021. Other firms have projected that this figure could rise to double by 2030.

BCIs are currently restricted to medical use, although a wide range of other uses have been suggested for the technology. Research in 2018 reported that participants used BCIs to interact with many apps on Android tablets, including messaging and typing. They also found it possible to search the internet by simply imagining the movements of relevant characters. Other possibilities include manipulating virtual reality and playing video games. You can also receive data inputs such as text messages or videos directly without the need to use a monitor. Although these may seem like science fiction, the truth is that the technological and cultural barriers for this type of tech are outpacing the ethical ones. Even though “The Terminal Man” is a fictional story, its tragic ending raises serious questions about the unintentional consequences of BCIs.

A changed heart

Although there have not been any confirmed cases of “Terminal Man-style” violent rampages triggered by BCIs (but compelling evidence indicates that they can cause cognitive changes outside of the intended scope of their intended uses), there is no proof to support this.

Some of these changes were positive. After all, BCIs are designedto alter certain aspects about their users. Professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, Wexler interviewed Parkinson’s patients who had undergone deep-brain stimulation. This surgical procedure involves placing thin metal wires in the brain that send electrical pulses to the brain. Many of these people lost their sense of self prior to undergoing treatment. She said that many people felt the disease had taken away their identity in some way. It can really impact your identity and your self-worth if you are unable to do the things you believe you can do. BCIs were used to help the patients feel like they were regaining their self-worth by treating the underlying disease.

Researchers at the University of Washington, Sara Goering and Eran Klein, also noticed positive changes in personality, self-perception, and behavior among those who used BCIs. A 2016 paper examining attitudes and ethical considerations around DBS reported that many participants felt the treatment helped to regain their “authentic self” after being affected by depression or obsessive compulsive disorder. One patient stated, “I have started to wonder about me, what’s my depression and what’s my stimulator.” Cynthia Kubu, a neuropsychologist, described a higher sense of control and autonomy in patients she had interviewed during a talk on similar research.

Not all of the changes researchers have discovered are beneficial. Frederic Gilbert, a philosopher at the University of Tasmania who specializes in applied neuroethics and philosophy, noticed some strange effects from people who have had BCIs. Gilbert explained to me that the notions of identity, personality, agency, authenticity and self are all very compact and obscure dimensions. Although no one really knows what they mean, there are cases in which it is clear that BCIs have caused changes in personality or sexual expression.

Gilbert noticed that patients reported feeling like they didn’t recognize themselves in many of his interview studies. This is commonly called “estrangement” in research. He said that patients know they are themselves but it isn’t the same as before the implantation. Some people feel they have new capabilities that are not related to their implants. For example, a woman in her 50s fell on the pool table and hurt her back. Negative situations, also known as deteriorative estrangement (or estrangement that causes a loss of self-esteem), can be very distressing. Gilbert stated that there have been suicide attempts in extreme cases.

BCIs can be used to treat a serious medical condition. It makes sense that they would also have a positive psychological impact. There are more concerns about the downsides of brain chips being used for common purposes.

Your smartphone is your brain

We are closer to Musk’s vision of a “Fitbit in every skull” as technology improves. There are reasons to be cautious. It’s easy to become addicted to your phone. But imagine how addictive it would be if it was wired directly to your brain.

Gilbert shared with me the story of a patient he interviewed. He felt like they could not go out on their own or decide what food to order without consulting the device that revealed what was happening in their brains. Gilbert stated that while there is nothing wrong in having a device that completes a decision, at the end the device was kinda supplanting the person and kicking them out the loop.

Sometimes patients can become so dependent on their devices that they feel they cannot function without them. Gilbert has met many participants in studies who fell into depression after losing support for their devices. This is often due to funding cuts or trial expiring. An anonymous participant in a study who had received a device to detect epileptic activity, said that she was able to “grow slowly into it” and became accustomed to it. It became me.”

BCIs can be difficult to financially support and maintain. They may also require brain surgery to remove them and reimplant them. BCIs are still in their trial phase. There are no universal standards or financial support. Many devices could lose funding suddenly. Supply-chain problems, hardware updates, bankruptcy, and other issues could disrupt early adopters’ sense of self.

Privacy concerns arise when a computer has access to your brain waves. Gilbert stated that if you have a device that helps you move your prosthetic arm for example, it will pick up noises that you might not want in your brain. There is a lot background noise and it can be deciphered. This noise is converted and stored somewhere on the cloud. One could learn a lot from studying your brain waves. If a hacker had access to your data, they could also read your mind by looking for specific expressions in brain-signal activity.

BCIs are still mostly restricted to the medical sector, so early adopters are willing to make these kind of trade-offs. Wexler stated that if someone is disabled and cannot communicate, they are “generally quite happy if there is a technology that allows them to do so.” It’s not clear, however, that it would be worth the risk of non-medical BCIs causing a lot more problems than the convenience of a Fitbit.

Although we are still far from the futuristic cyborgian world of interconnected electronic minds that Elon Musk has predicted, the industry’s rapid growth makes it more urgent to consider ethical issues. Science fiction was once the only way to go. Companies shouldn’t rush to implant brain chips in people’s heads if they can alter key aspects of their personality. Wexler said that although most people in the industry don’t want to use BCIs for consumer products, they believe it will happen. She said that if it happens, the whole risk-benefit tradeoff will change.