Neurolink, a company owned by Elon Musk is developing a product called Neural Lace. This is a mesh consisting of electrodes which acts as an interface between the brain and a computer. Broadly speaking, this would allow people to communicate to computers wirelessly, download thoughts, possess more control over the brain and cure a range of illnesses. Neural Lace is best described as an ultra-thin mesh rolled up into a small needle and injected into the skull. Upon leaving the needle, the mesh unravels and covers part of the brain. Over time, the mesh Is accepted by the brain as they essentially become one. This article will explore whether Neural Lace should be accessible for use to the general public.
The Argument For
An electrode a day, keeps the doctor away
It is believed that Neural Lace could be used in the medical industry to cure neurodegenerative disorders and other medical issues. This includes Parkinson’s disease, the ability to walk, eat, talk and most incredibly, allowing people to connect artificial body parts using the power of their brain. Considering deontological ethics where an action is morally right when it is in line with a moral rule/principle, it would be wrong for a doctor not to recommend this treatment to a patient in need where other treatments would not be as effective. Similarly, care ethics would support the decision of Neural Lace treatment due to the presence of a doctor-patient relationship. Additionally, the success of this treatment would relieve the burden caused by the disease upon the patient and their loved ones, bringing them a profound feeling of happiness. In light of Utilitarianism, the ethical theory concerned with which action causes most people the most happiness, making the treatment accessible would be the right decision due to the amount of happiness created.
Cyborg for president!
Moreover, our brains would be connected to the internet via Neural Lace, allowing a vast array of information to be accessed quickly. This would enable quick, high quality decisions posing as a useful tool for leaders, especially high-level company executives, presidents, etc. These individuals are often tasked with making critical decisions that affect a large number of people. With the help of Neural Lace, this leader would quickly obtain information that reflects a large amount of the public, putting him in a better position to make a decision that would please most people, aligning with Utilitarian theory.
AI with morality
Since its introduction by John McCarthy in 1956, artificial intelligence (AI) has been one of the biggest topics in the field of engineering. AI, or more specifically, general AI, is capable of autonomous learning and problem solving in different contexts. However, there have been ethical concerns with general AI since its development. Some say that, with their self-consciousness and lack of morality, AI might try to do destructive things (e.g.: dominate human beings), or they might try to do the right things in a catastrophic way (e.g.: eliminate human species to save the environment). With the introduction of Neural Lace – a type of Brain-Computer Interface (BCI), a person will be able to compete with AI in terms of problem-solving, while maintaining common virtues(e.g. reliability, solidarity and being just) of a human being, matching the virtue ethics. Additionally, supported by care ethics, a person with Neural Lace is still going to develop relationships in society, which enhances his moral obligations and eliminates the possibility for him to be “anti-human”.
Do you want to be a housecat?
During the Code Conference 2016, Elon Musk stated that, as AI continues to advance, humans would be left so far behind that compared to AI, humans would be the intellectual equivalent of a house cat. This future could possibly be avoided with Neural Lace, as this BCI technology offers humans the capability of continuous improvement. The instrumental value of this action also aligns with Utilitarianism, as the consequence would be the one that most people are happy with – no one would like to be treated as a house cat.
The Case Against
Entangled by the web
A theory made by Westin regarding privacy is that an individual can protect themselves by limiting the amount of information they share. Having access to a huge database such as the internet, would mean that the neuralaced brain must be a part of it as well. This would lead to numerous problems, of which similar to the ones related to the normal usage of the Internet which is vulnerability of the user. Websites or software tend to collect data from the user to optimize their experience to the maximum, however, fraudulent ones may use the data for malicious purposes. Utilitarianism ethics would be against the use of Neural Lace as most people would not be happy having their confidential information being spread around the web.
Neural Lace aims to extend the capability of the brain beyond its natural limits and would allow us to compete with technological advancement such as AI. According to deontological ethics, this might be going against some religious principles, whereby the creators of Neural Lace are trying to play God. Furthermore, the human brain has limitations of capacity in terms of information processing, where it could slightly differ from each person. It is dangerous to go beyond a certain limit of an organ as it may damage the organ, especially a crucial one such as the brain which controls the whole body. It is currently unknown whether it is safe on humans as tests were only done on rats at the point of writing, of which it would then breach the reciprocity ethics as sacrifices in the name of science are only attractive when you’re not the lab rat.
Mice to Lab Rats
With all innovation comes some degree of testing, whilst Neuralace has been tested on mice there is no guarantee what may happen once it is applied to a human. Elon Musk has said of the first people to visit Mars that they must be “prepared to die”. Musk is clearly not one to shy away from sacrifice in the name of progress. Neural Lace has many potential applications to help people, such as the mitigation of terrible diseases which ultimately may fit with virtue ethics as the character of the actor is the most important aspect of ethical decision-making and so it is moral to take these risks by good intention. Kantian deontology may say otherwise however as humans are ends in themselves and sacrificing a human in the name of progress is inconsistent with this ethic. Presuming Neuralace works on humans at all and the sacrifice is not in vain!
Man vs Machine
In 2019 it emerged that the 26 richest people in the world owned as much of the world’s wealth as the poorest 50%, or over 3.8 billion people. Combined. This gap shows no signs it will go away any time soon. In such a world who is the most likely to first receive dramatic mental enhancement through Neural Lace? And when the richest do, are they likely to share the spoils? A sharp shift towards an Orwellian society in which the 1% is augmented and the rest cannot afford the procedure is one possible outcome to the commercial application of Neural Lace, and one that flies in the face of utilitarian principle. Could Neuralace lead to even greater sentiment of us vs them, and will the reward of augmentation outweigh the risk of resentment in society?
Pass GO and Pay $200
Healthcare in the USA is oft-criticised as extortionate and price-gouging with insulin sold for $65 in the UK often going for as high as $360! Why? Monopolisation. When single companies or groups of companies control the market then they can set the prices as high as they want. Don’t like it? You don’t have to buy the product. Can’t afford it? Sorry, but people who can are making up the difference. This only exacerbates the class divide and delivers even more power and influence into the hands of Elon Musk. Is this really compatible with the utilitarian view as so many lose out to so few? Is this really virtuous? Are people really being considered ends in themselves?
From the discussion above, we conclude that Neural Lace being accessible to the general public is a morally just decision and outweighs the criticisms levelled against it.