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Should You Connect Your Brain to the Internet?

As Elon Musk prepares to roll out new advances in Neuralink’s brain-computer interface in order to cure diseases and expand human capabilities, the privacy, security and ethical implications of chip implants are set to explode. Let’s explore.

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Move over robots, a new competitor may be about to disrupt the world of artificial intelligence (AI) – and this technological breakthrough may soon benefit a friend or family member near you. Or, perhaps, the coming age of augmented humans will one day change the way all of us interact with technology.  

Sound like science fiction? Probably not, and this blog will explore the next steps in the debate over chip implants and their potentially dramatic impact.    

Back in 2017, Forbes magazine asked the question: Are You Ready To Have Your Brain Connected To The Internet?

The technology at the time offered the opportunity to convert brain waves into signals that could be live-streamed and made accessible through a Web portal.  

But fast-forward a few years, and Elon Musk’s Neuralink Corp. is setting the stage for an entirely different type of brain-computer interface. Here’s an overview of the Neuralink project and plans from last year:



Here are just a few of the related headlines worth exploring:

TheVerge.com: Elon Musk unveils Neuralink’s plans for brain-reading ‘threads’ and a robot to insert them. Quote: “Elon Musk’s Neuralink, the secretive company developing brain-machine interfaces, showed off some of the technology it has been developing to the public for the first time. The goal is to eventually begin implanting devices in paralyzed humans, allowing them to control phones or computers.”

Daily Mail (UK): Elon Musk says his brain chip Neuralink company could 're-train' area associated with depression and addiction. Quote: “He also revealed that the technology could develop into a full brain interface in just 25 years, which would enable 'symbiosis' between humans and AI.”

TechCrunch: Elon Musk sets update on brain computer interface company Neuralink for August 28.

New Microsoft Patent Application Gets Attention

Meanwhile, Microsoft is getting plenty of Internet attention from conspiracy theorists with their recent patent application with the numbers “666” included – when you add a few zeros. One website called ScreenRant.com wrote, “There are corners of the internet that are very upset about Microsoft filing ‘Patent 666’ to microchip humans. The growing narrative implies that Bill Gates and a number of other people in the tech community are working together on a new world order.

However, Snopes.com writes that this is mostly false in response:

“What's True

Microsoft published a patent for a "cryptocurrency system using body activity data." This patent is filed under the number WO2020060606A1.

What's False

The number WO2020060606A1 contains three "6's" but is obviously not the same as "666." This patent focuses on tracking body activity via wearable technology, such as a smart watch, and makes no mention of implanted microchips.”

The BBC wrote this about the issue: “A new YouGov poll of 1,640 people suggests that 28% of Americans believe that Bill Gates wants to use vaccines to implant microchips in people - with the figure rising to 44% among Republicans. …”

Still, even though most conspiracy theories related to implanted chips are fake news, I wonder why Microsoft chose the patent number they did? Was this just by chance?

What functions do the new patent application actually perform?

According to this source, “Microsoft has filed a patent titled “Cryptocurrency system using body activity data” which was published yesterday. The patent talks about a new cryptocurrency that uses body activity data for mining allowing users to mine the currency without needing an expensive mining rig. This is an innovative method which hasn’t been explored enough but it might just work for Microsoft.”

States Respond to Microchip Fears with Laws

Meanwhile, fears of implanted chips recently led to several states passing laws ensuring chip implants are not compulsory.

ZDNet: Michigan tackles compulsory microchip implants for employees with new bill – Quote: “The state of Michigan has introduced a bill designed to prevent employers from forcing their staff to accept microchip implants.”

MarketWatch: States are cracking down on companies microchipping their employees — how common is it?

ABC3340.com: Human Microchipping: Would you consider having an implant in your hand? – Quote: “In March, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb signed legislation which prohibits companies from forcing workers to implant microchips. That state joins California, Maryland, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Utah with similar legislation.”

Privacy Context on Biohacking and Implanted Microchips

This is my third article related to implanting microchips in humans written over the past three years. My earlier pieces provided much more detail and historical context. I urge interested readers to read why I believe chip implants will be much more of a privacy issue than even GDPR over the next decade.

Here are those pieces to examine from 2017 and 2018:

Chip Implants: The Next Big Privacy Debate – “Have you been chipped? That question is set to divide millions of people in the 2020s. And perhaps billions of people in the 2030s and 2040s.”

Where Next for Microchip Implants? – “Employees at Three Square Market, a technology company in Wisconsin, will have a small chip injected in their hands this week for security convenience. But where is this biohacking trend heading? Is there a microchip implant in your future?”

Nevertheless, I think the work is accelerating and is set to explode onto the world stage and grab news headlines soon, despite the pandemic and upcoming presidential election. As I said in my 2018 article on this topic, “With the exception of medical purposes to embed chips in the human body, I am very concerned about this chip implant trend — especially for security convenience. I think this is the beginning of a long trip down a 'Yellow Brick Road' that will not lead to the Emerald City that people expect.

I agree with the social media comments that "optional" is usually the first step that leads to "standard," which leads to "expected," which can lead to mandatory or almost-required situations (such as with credit cards). I am concerned with "hack-proof" statements about 256-bit encryption, which do not take into account the people, process and technology that needs to be implemented with such system security.

Final Thoughts

The headline for this blog asks a question. The presumption is that many will (soon, as in later this decade) have the capability to connect your brain to the Internet (or to a device, which is connected to your iPhone or other smart device, which has an app, which is connected to the Internet.)

As I predicted, Elon Musk and others will begin by going after cures for diseases like dementia and Parkinson’s Disease and also for solutions for addictions and other ailments. This makes sense and is a great way to start which I support. Who is against curing diseases? 

But make no mistake about where this is headed. Musk makes it very clear that he wants to improve human memory and link humans to AI – perhaps even making us cyborgs in various ways. Are we opening “Braindora’s Box” by doing this? Just because we can do this, should we? The coming controversies will make the Microsoft patent conspiracy issues listed in this blog look mild.

People will claim that Musk and Microsoft and others want mind control, control of buying and selling (in biblical proportions) and much more with these microchip developments. I have huge security and ethical concerns about where this will lead, as do millions (perhaps billions) of people around the world.

I stand behind my statement made in 2018:

“Some say we will all, eventually, be chipped. Others say — never! Let the privacy, legal, technical, professional, medical, security, political, religious and ‘oh so personal’ battles begin.”

And also, implanting microchips in the body, including the brain, will be the next big privacy debate.   

Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.
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