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By Trisha Prabhu

“i’ve been reading about brain chips that they can implant in your head and they can achieve super cool things. can u explain?”

Hi there, and welcome back to another week of Ask Trish! I hope you’re all well and having a great week. (Can you believe that it’s T-8 days to May? I sure can’t…)

Thank you so much to this week’s question-er for this important question about what is a very fascinating topic. As much as we’ve discussed all sorts of technologies on Ask Trish – everything from social media platforms to driverless cars to emerging AI technologies – one technology that we’ve yet to discuss is neurotechnology, or technology that monitors or manipulates/somehow influences neural activity. That’s exactly the type of technology that this week’s question-er is referencing. So, what is neurotechnology? What are its possible benefits/those “super cool things” it can achieve? And on the other hand…is there any cause for concern? What, if anything, could go wrong here? In this week’s post, I answer each of those questions – and hopefully, give y’all a bit more of a window into this fascinating technology.

Sound good? Let’s get into it:

As referenced, neurotechnology is technology that interfaces with our nervous system to either monitor or in some way control or improve our brain processes. This field of study is quite old…it turns out, folks have been poking around our brains (even delivering electric shocks to them, to try to address mental health problems) for over a century. With that said, it was the recent breakthrough of brain imaging, e.g., MRI scans, that really accelerated neurotechnology. With brain imaging, scientists could begin to understand what parts of the brain were and were not activated during different tasks…and thus start to think about manipulating different parts of the brain to affect those tasks. Today, there are a number of different neurotechnology practices and techniques. Common brain monitoring techniques include placing non-invasive electrodes on the scalp or (certainly invasive!) implantation of needles. With respect to manipulating the brain, some folks are currently looking into electrical stimulation as a means of activating different brain functions. And – to get to the question-er’s question – yet others are leveraging what is called deep-brain stimulation, or the surgical implantation of electrodes, e.g., chips to change brain processes. Lots and lots of companies and big names are excited by the prospect of implanting chips into the human brain. Elon Musk, for instance, is doing just that at his start-up Neuralink; they’ve already started to implant chips in people.

Why all the excitement? What can these chips achieve? Well, in Neuralink’s case, the chip Musk and his team have designed has created what they call a “brain-computer interface”; in other words, it enables people with the chip implanted to control a mouse or computer simply by thinking. Neuralink’s first human patient has been able to do just that – after living with paralysis for years, he is finally able to play online chess again…by simply imagining the cursor moving on his screen. Pretty incredible, right? And that’s a pretty minimal example of the types of things brain-computer interface technologies can achieve. These technologies have successfully alleviated the symptoms of brain-specific diseases, like Parkinson’s and epilepsy; some believe that they may be used one day to completely reverse these diseases. Still others have visions of chips that help us curb unhealthy eating habits. And so on…It’s no wonder that so many companies are getting in on the excitement. Indeed, it’s not just Neuralink; tech giants Facebook and Google have their own neurotechnology initiatives, too.

At this point, you might be sold on neurotechnology – and, in particular, brain-computer interface technologies. But is there any cause for concern? Possibly, say some critics. In particular, many are especially concerned about the sensitive, granular, all-encompassing data that these technologies will collect. After all, they will quite literally see into your mind! To what extent can private companies like Neuralink access that data? There are also concerns about safety and effectiveness. So far, things are looking good for Neuralink and competitors…but the brain is a very complex organ (one that we barely understand). No doubt, these chips must be rigorously tested and evaluated. We wouldn’t want, for instance, a chip to solve one neurological disorder…but then inadvertently cause another. And still others have more philosophical worries. With a chip in our heads, will we have any agency anymore? Will we truly be human? (What is it to be human?) Others have translated these concerns into more practical worries, noting that chips could also be used to manipulate thinking in ways that are far more insidious, e.g., encouraging people to adopt certain views. That, of course, doesn’t sound so great.

It’s all so fascinating, right? If you’re interested in neurotechnology, I’d encourage you to use this post as a starting point and continue to research it! No doubt, there’s a lot ahead in this space…and I’ll be sure to keep y’all updated as it goes down. 

As always, my end-of-post plug to y’all is to please share any other thoughts and questions about the internet (whether neurotechnology-related or not!) with me here. Remember, I welcome any and all concerns or musings – there’s truly no such thing as a “stupid” question. Thank you in advance for your amazing contributions!

Have a great week,


What is neurotechnology? 🧠 it’s a hot topic – and this week, Trish dives in. Check out her post for a guide to what neurotechnology is, what it has to offer, and how it might possibly go wrong. Link in bio ⬆️⬆️

♬ original sound – Ask Trish

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