Brain Implants: Are They Our Next Step or a Step Too Far?

Brain Implant technology, which once only associated with science fiction, is now becoming a real life concept. Companies like Elon Musk’s Neuralink, and Synchron are at the leading the way.

After receiving permission to test on humans, Neuralink drew significant funding, raising $280 million. Such progression isn’t confined to the famous ventures.

Lesser-known companies also provide solutions for nerve diseases and severe epilepsy.

Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, for instance, have backed Synchron, a company that recently tested its innovative implant on nine ALS patients.

This implant allows users to browse online and use messaging apps with just eye movements and thoughts.

Tom Oxley, the mind behind Synchron, is of the view that we’re at a decisive phase with this technology. He emphasises the importance of access across the boards, to such devices.

Regaining Movement

These implants are technological life-changers. After a life-threatening motorcycle accident, an implant helped a previously paralysed man to walk by connecting his brain to his spinal cord.

Through the NeuroLife trial by Battelle, Ian Burkhart, for example, was left paralysed from a diving accident and had a device implanted in his brain. The implant allowed the regain of his arm movement.

“That was the magical moment that proved that this is possible, this isn’t just science fiction,” he commented.

Although the trial came to an end and the device was taken out, Burkhart remains hopeful and anticipates adopting a longer-term solution some day.


Facing the Ethical and Practical Issues

But this technological progress isn’t without its concerns. Invasive surgery and physical complications arise, as mentioned by Burkhart’s account of an infected scalp due to the device’s attachment.

Professor Michael Platt of the University of Pennsylvania cautioned, “The brain doesn’t like having stuff inside it.” Over time, as cells cover these implants, their efficacy reduces.

Beyond the physical, there’s the psychological toll. Hannah Galvin, who had an EEG device implanted to monitor epileptic seizures, recounted a tumultuous experience.

The device alarmed her of over 100 seizures a day, an overwhelming revelation. Galvin’s discomfort grew to a point where she felt there was a “weird robot inside me”.

She eventually had it removed and felt immense relief afterwards.

This divergence in experiences between Burkhart and Galvin illuminates the importance of considering the individual’s mental well-being alongside the potential medical benefits.

Visions of the Mind

Outside of strictly medical applications, some, like Elon Musk, see more possibilities.

He speaks of telepathy and even the storage of memories, suggesting humans might one day “download them into a new body or into a robot body”.

Such ideas, while fascinating, raise essential ethical and philosophical questions about our relationship with technology.

Neurotechnology, with its ability to bridge minds and machines, has undeniably opened doors to monumental medical advances.

As companies like Neuralink and Synchron push the envelope, society must grapple with the ethical concerns intertwined with the benefits.

Patient experiences and welfare should remain central to the narrative, ensuring that as we connect more deeply with machines, we don’t disconnect from our own humanity.