April 7, 2021 | STAT

A skeptic’s take on Neuralink and other consumer neurotech

By Dr. Anna Wexler for STAT

The titans of Silicon Valley say that the brain-computer interface revolution is coming, and neurotech devices will soon meld mind and machine, allowing us to communicate effortlessly with our computers — and even one another — just by using our thoughts.

But I believe their prognostications aren’t likely to come to fruition anytime soon.

Elon Musk invested $100 million into his neurotech startup, Neuralink, to develop an implantable device he has referred to as a “Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires.” Kernel recently unveiled a version of its brain-recording helmet, with its founder predicting that the device would be in every home by 2033. And Facebook is working on brain-computer interface (BCI) technology to enable brain-to-text typing.

In this new world of private neurotech development, company demos are live-streamed on YouTube and have the flavor of techno-optimism that involves proclamations about a future we have yet to see — but one that we are assured will come to pass. Data are sparse; rhetoric about making the world a better place is heavy.

I am a neuroethicist, someone who studies ethical and social implications of advances in neurotechnology. So I frequently get asked about its development. Should we be worried that companies like Facebook, Neuralink, Kernel, and others — helmed by individuals who have previously launched paradigm-shifting technology — are working on capturing data from our brains?

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