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The Neuroticism of Neuralink

Updated: 7 days ago

Should technological development go no further?

Apple has just released the Apple Vision Pro in an attempt to merge the digital and real worlds in one bulky, futuristic-looking headset. Practical? No. Creepy? Yes. Yet through all the commotion, a more intriguing (and daunting) innovation has slipped through the cracks of public reaction. Elon Musk has  Trojan-horsed his ‘Neuralink’  into our society, with the first test subject successfully receiving their chip at the end of January.

For those unaware of Musk’s latest endeavour, Neuralink is a brain chip that acts like Bluetooth, sending signals from your brain to your phone or computer. Thus, one could control their phone “just by thinking”, according to Musk. Whilst Neuralink is initially being trialled for those with brain and spine injuries, Musk’s end goal is to create a “human/AI symbiosis” — whatever that means. It turns out that Musk is not the only one attempting this. 

This might sound shocking, but it makes sense considering our timeline of technology: we have never truly stopped evolving. Throughout history, society has sought to overturn the technological advances of the past and to do better. “Word of mouth” evolved into the printing press. Horse-drawn carts were interchanged for railways. And whilst it was a near miracle we sent a man to the moon in 1969, our iPhone technology now outperforms that of the space mission. Humankind has impressively continued to navigate itself around the laws of nature, and thus, in turn, we continue to outperform the industrialists and entrepreneurs of yesteryear. 

But at what point do we argue that, just because we can advance technology, we need to? As we inch ever closer to entering Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror world, when will it no longer be beneficial to evolve technologically? Where do we draw the line?

Now, I’m not saying that Charlie Brooker has the final word on technology, nor that he can predict the future — despite the fact that Black Mirror’s equivalent of Neuralink was in one of the show’s first episodes in 2011. However, if we do look at the six-season catalogue of Black Mirror, only two episodes actually base a plot around technological advancement enhancing and improving our future. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what Brooker is alluding to.

The issue is that, today, a “beneficial” piece of technology is defined by how easy and efficient the product can make our lives. Defined by those criteria, Neuralink is a wonder: for those of us keen to harness its power for non-medical uses, the brain chip removes any effort required to pick up a phone and send a text (because, of course, that is a mammoth task for one to undertake). Yet in placing efficiency as the cornerstone of technological success, we effectively shroud our fears about a technologically dependent future behind this positive facade of modernity. If we dare to highlight the repercussions of productivity, we are told we will “get left behind”.

The Apple Vision Pro is designed to enhance connection, but it perpetuates our technological disconnect from reality, fuelling a loneliness epidemic. AI can easily replace whole industries of employees, but who does a jobless world really benefit besides the CEOs cashing in on a sparse workforce? We need to repurpose the definition of “beneficial” if collectively we cannot see the positive in such technological change. 

Granted, I might be sounding like a bit of a Luddite at my ripe old age of 23; and maybe some are enthralled by the idea of surgically implanting a brain chip or permanently wearing what is basically a virtual reality headset. I am cognisant that important technological change will always be accompanied by downsides. Indeed, I can’t imagine that those living through the Industrial Revolution were too overjoyed as steam and smoke filled the air of London streets, despite the importance of such work. Nevertheless it is hard not to fear such technological change today, especially considering society’s collective disapproval. 

At least if I do end up changing my mind on this matter, I’m glad I’ll be able to telepathically notify people of it.

Illustration by: Calum Mayor

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