Neural Lace: Knot As It Seams

Group 18

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.

Maximum overdrive

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?

Our Decision

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.

8 thoughts on “Neural Lace: Knot As It Seams

  1. A good topic and a good article. I like the fact you recommend acceptance (at the moment). There is a really good employment of the ethical theories that help inform both sides of the discussion. I should imagine, and encourage, you and Group 11 can trade comments.

    I’m not sure if I like the idea of Neural Lace as it seems to be a transition from being human to being a cyborg. From a Virtue Ethics viewpoint, I strive to the best human I can be, will Neural Lace allow me to do that? Can Neural Lace let me do that if I am no longer fully human?

    1. Thank you for you comment. I understand your concern, i’m still on the fence of whether or not I would support Neural Lace, but allow me to provide a counter. Some would say with how much we already depend on technology and gadgets, especially our phones, we are already part machine. Most people would agree that we have not been more productive than we are today as humans because of technology. If we consider how much good we have been able to do with the use of technology through medicine, engineering and other fields, isn’t technology helping us provide happiness/pleasure to more people than not?

      I would prefer to look at these technology and gadgets as tools and with that same line of logic, Neural Lace would be a tool. So from a Utilitarianism standpoint, would Neural Lace allow us to do as much good as other technologies have?

  2. Very Interesting topic being discussed here! (rely appreciate the subtitles) I agree with it being implemented to support the physically disadvantage in order to bring equality among human beings.
    But it would have to be strongly supported with the right regulation to allow accessibility in terms of price, and thus succumb to Utilitarianism ethics.

    However, I want to raise up that point that when leaders, for example, are making a decision its important to have rational and well informed decisions, yes, but because most of our decisions will impact human being -who are emotional beings- it will be essential to include an emotional accept in the decision making. AI technology is able to calculate the statistical impact but not the true emotional impact actions have on society. Therefore relying on AI for our decisions may negate the emotional aspects in decision making process pushing us to disregard the emotions of people, counterattacking Utilitarianism.
    This i feel is a big drawback to how ethical neural lace is.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I think it’s important that I put emphasis on the fact the Neural Lace is not AI, it would just be an implant that sort of connects humans to the internet, giving us access to more information at faster rates. Upon further advancements, it may even allow us to download and use whole languages without having to go through the tedious learning process.

      That being said, I think your point of persevering the emotional aspects may still hold; if one has such easy access to all this data and information, it may be too tempting to use a data driven approach with most, if not all, decisions. Definitely something to be aware of.

  3. I think that this is another really interesting development from Elon and definitely would make life a lot simpler and humans’ abilities a lot greater (if applied well and healthily) which would further creativity and just produce more knowledgeable human beings which is seldom a bad thing.

    Albeit that, I am still failing to recognize the difference with the Neural Lace to AI in terms of it still being technology and having those disadvantages; also increasing the wage gap and putting masses out of work. Right now, the criticisms seem to outweigh the pros as it is quite expensive and still very deadly for humans and anyone who knows Elon knows that he does whatever to achieve his goals so I do not think this is the safest option at the stage of development it is now. I also fully agree with the comment above about emotional intelligence!

  4. Interesting Read.
    The idea of using humans to morally curtail the potential outgrowth/outpacing that AI could one day have over us is an interesting.
    A reason I don’t think Neural Lace (for non medical-use) should be widespread is the question of choice. Will those who choose not to have neural lace implanted in them later face the consequences and repercussions of being left behind. If enough people begin to use Neural Lace then the competition across all walks of life will become even fiercer than it is today. They say knowledge is power, how then can one justify an employee having unlimited knowledge, thereby making themself more powerful in the workplace over people who simply chose not to have their brain’s altered/augmented.
    What impact will this have on the mental health of the entire workforce? Workplace mental health is already precarious in that there are new statistics and figures that show (generally speaking) mental health issues stemming from stress are on the rise. Burn Out was recently classified as a medical condition. How do you outperform a cyborg in order to achieve your own dreams and ambitions.
    Affordability is also key.
    Following that, the question of morality is at play in that how do you guarantee that whosoever receives the Neural Lace will not use the knowledge and therefore power to cause harm. In our human ability to create, innovate and push forward we have an equally destructive potential to damage, harm, and kill. The capacity for human good is as immense as the capacity for human evil and historically innovation and technology have been abused and warped into forces of destruction.
    Something as major as this definitely needs a lot more thinking before it should be implemented into society.
    Very interesting indeed. Appreciate the debate.

  5. An interesting article I must say. As someone who is an advocate for the advancement of technology and AI, I can see the numerous applications for the Neural Lace in our daily lives, the positives are definitely going create a massive change in this world.

    However at the moment the current negative aspects of the neural lace seem to outweigh the positives, in particular the fact that we will most likely see the rich receive this “upgrade” earlier than the poor, leading an even further divide in an already divided world. How much will it cost? Superiority complexes are definitely going to be an issue in this. Having more information is not always a great thing and we’ve seen it before.
    Will having constant access to information create a world of reduced curiosity?
    The human brain can only take so much.

  6. Very interesting read, I think this will help improve business etiquette especially for businesses like fast-food restaurants, where their customer service is key. Life would be much easier with this technology especially if one has to travel to a different country and cannot speak the local language. I strongly support this because it will help maintain or possibly increase employment rates, unlike AI that will drastically increase unemployment.
    However, like the law in physics, for every forward force, there is an equal but backward force, same applies here with the idea that people might become lazy to do basic things like a read a book, et Cetra.
    I hope I live to see this happen.

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