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Human Brain Chip Implants: Helpful? Safe? Ethical?

Major developments regarding implanting chips in human brains have been announced in 2024. Will this procedure become widespread? Are precautions — or even regulations — needed?

illustration of a human head and brain filled with microchips and digital infrastructure
Will cyborgs become commonplace in the future?

It's a question that many more are asking after Elon Musk's startup Neuralink announced new developments in its brain-machine interface (BMI).

Musk recently said that the “first Neuralink patient can control a computer mouse through thinking":

″'[The] patient seems to have made a full recovery with no ill effects that we are aware of and is able to control the mouse, move the mouse around the screen just by thinking,' Musk said in a Spaces session on social media platform X.

“Neuralink is the billionaire’s startup, which says it has developed a brain implant designed to help humans use their neural signals to control external technologies. The company aims to restore lost capabilities such as vision, motor function and speech."

But how does society feel about these new developments?

Following the recent Neuralink announcements, YouGov conducted a poll with 1,000 respondents. Here were the results:

“Eighty-two percent of the respondents responded with a firm no when asked if they would want to have a chip implanted in their brain. Ten percent of the respondents were indecisive so they marked undecided. Two percent of the people in the poll were ready to volunteer as a human test subject to get a chip implanted in their brain within the next year. Overall, 5 percent of the respondents said that they would like to get the chip in their brain within the next year.”

According to the Pew Research Center, most Americans support brain implants for medical reasons. For example:
  • 77 percent favored using computer chip brain implants to allow increased movement for people who are paralyzed.
  • 64 percent favored using them to treat age-related mental decline.

However, the same Pew study showed that the majority of Americans expressed cautious and negative views about the idea of using brain implants to improve cognitive function.

“More than half of U.S. adults (56 percent) said that widespread use of brain chips to enhance cognitive function would be a bad idea for society. Only 13 percent said it would be a good idea, and 31 percent weren’t sure. A large majority (78 percent) said they would not want a chip implant for themselves, while 20 percent said they would want one.”


Last September 2023, Forbes wrote that "Elon Musk’s Neuralink Wants Volunteers For First Human Trial Of Its Brain Implant Chip." Here's an excerpt:

“The company is now recruiting participants who have 'quadriplegia due to cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis,' or ALS, are at least 22 years old and 'have a reliable caregiver' to participate in a trial that will evaluate safety of the chip.

“According to the study brochure, it will take about six years to complete: Participants will have nine at-home and in-person visits for the first 18 months, then 20 visits spread over five years for follow-up, and will have twice weekly research sessions for the duration of the study.

“In the trial, a robot will be used to surgically place the implant’s ‘ultra-fine and flexible threads’ into the brain — from there, the implant is supposed to ‘record and transmit brain signals wirelessly to an app that decodes movement intention,’ according to Neuralink.”

And, beyond medical purposes, this Business Insider article describes how “thousands of people are reportedly lining up to have a portion of their skull removed and one of Elon Musk's brain chips implanted." Here are the bullet points and an excerpt:
  • "Thousands of people are interested in becoming Neuralink patients, a Bloomberg report says.
  • "Elon Musk's startup received FDA approval earlier this year to start human trials.
  • "The brain-chip startup hopes to implant a device that acts as a 'Fitbit in your skull.'"

“Vance, who said he visited Neuralink's facilities 10 times in three years, said the company had yet to implant its device in a human but aimed to operate on 11 people next year and more than 22,000 by 2030. …

“Vance quoted the billionaire saying Neuralink needed to pick up its pace ‘like the world is coming to an end’ to keep up with artificial intelligence and the possibility of an AI being that wouldn't be friendly to humans.

“We can't blow up the first three. That's not an option here," Shivon Zilis, Neuralink's director of special projects and the mother of two of Musk's children, told Vance in a reference to SpaceX's first three rockets, which exploded.”
This is not the first time, nor is it likely to be the last, that I have reported on the advancement of implanting chips in humans for various reasons.

And plenty of media outlets are fascinated by this trend. This Daily Mail article highlights a new documentary that reveals man and woman who've had technology installed in their bodies including 'eyeborg' who has cured his colorblindness, as Elon Musk's brain chip enters human trials.

“The two are ‘transhumanists,’ a growing movement of people who hope to add new abilities to their bodies using technology — with Elon Musk claiming that technology such as his Neuralink implant could enhance human memories or even allow humans to live forever as man-machine hybrids.”

ETHICAL — AND OTHER — CONCERNS ABOUT BRAIN IMPLANTS recently asked this question: Several companies are testing brain implants — why is there so much attention swirling around Neuralink?

Read the entire response, but here are some highlights: “Noninvasive devices positioned on the outside of a person’s head have been used in clinical trials for a long time, but they have not received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for commercial development. …”

“Neuralink received FDA approval for human trials in May 2023. Musk announced the company’s first human trial on his social media platform, X — formerly Twitter — in January 2024.

“Information about the implant, however, is scarce, aside from a brochure aimed at recruiting trial subjects. Neuralink did not register at, as is customary, and required by some academic journals.”

And added this dialog: “Somebody asked [bioengineer] Ed Maynard, who was my graduate student in 1999, exactly that kind of question. He said, 'We have modest goals: we want to make blind people see, paralyzed people move and deaf people hear again.' So that’s an old line that’s been kicking around for 25 years. And of course, everything we do toward improving the ability for people to have these things makes us a step closer to helping paralyzed people communicate and move again in a practical way, [with a] commercial device. …

“The thing is, you’ve got to be careful. The whole nature of restoring sensory inputs, like vision, involves electrical stimulation in the brain. It’s a whole different ball game. It’s not recording from single cells — that’s one thing — it’s stimulation.

“And as far as I know, there’s not one scintilla of evidence of using that device to create sensory systems in any way. It’s a whole other project. You could say, 'You’ve got a car. Do you think [a boat] will work?' Who knows? Yeah, it could, but it’s not a car.” added this: "While Mr. Musk's involvement raises the profile of Neuralink, some of his rivals have a track record dating back two decades. Utah-based Blackrock Neurotech implanted its first of many brain-computer interfaces in 2004.

"Precision Neuroscience, formed by a Neuralink co-founder, also aims to help people with paralysis. And its implant resembles a very thin piece of tape that sits on the surface of the brain and can be implanted via a 'cranial micro-slit,' which it says is a much simpler procedure."

Gizmodo recently described how The Race Is on Between Elon Musk’s Neuralink and China:

“These early announcements offer a glimpse into, potentially, the greatest international technology battle of the next decade. When someone figures out how to put your smartphone straight into your head, you won’t need to move a muscle to scroll through TikTok, and your body can just become mushy and soft as tech companies steal up your thought data. Instead of working from home, you can work from your brain; it’s a dystopian reality that both China and Elon Musk have been working on for years.

“The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology says it would like to develop several easy-to-use brain-interface products. The ministry notes brain technology could be used in driverless driving, virtual reality, and medical rehabilitation. 'Brain-inspired intelligence,' also known as generative AI, is cited several times as potentially being compatible with these new technologies.

“Last year, the Chinese government opened a 60-person laboratory focused entirely on brain-machine interfaces. The lab is primarily focused on turning its research into practical applications that could compete with Musk’s Neuralink, according to the South China Morning Post.” publish an article stating that “some researchers are concerned about a lack of transparency surrounding the implant, which aims to allow people to control devices through thought alone.

“But there is frustration about a lack of detailed information. There has been no confirmation that the trial has begun, beyond Musk’s tweet. The main source of public information on the trial is a study brochure inviting people to participate in it. But that lacks details such as where implantations are being done and the exact outcomes that the trial will assess, says Tim Denison, a neuroengineer at the University of Oxford, U.K.

“The trial is not registered at, an online repository curated by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Many universities require that researchers register a trial and its protocol in a public repository of this type before study participants are enrolled. Additionally, many medical journals make such registration a condition of publication of results, in line with ethical principles designed to protect people who volunteer for clinical trials. Neuralink, which is headquartered in Fremont, Calif., did not respond to Nature’s request for comment on why it has not registered the trial with the site.”


In closing, I want to highlight this U.K. article in The Guardian: The big idea: should we all be putting chips in our brains?

The article covers a lot of ground (both pro and con) with this research, but ends with this:

“When we lose autonomy over our own mental states, over our own conscious experiences, we have arrived at a place where what it means to be a human-being hangs in the balance. Whatever the benefits, this is a high price to pay.”
Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.