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Hacking Humans: How Neuralink May Give AI The Keys To Our Brains

Nov 18, 2020,07:40am EST

Jason Lau
Forbes Technology Council
Source: Forbes
Photo Source: Forbes

Chief Information Security Officer at Crypto.com, overseeing the company’s global cybersecurity and data privacy strategy. 

human brain and artificial intelligence concept
GETTY
Source: Forbes
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

When Elon Musk gave the world a demo in August of his latest endeavor, the brain-computer interface (BCI) Neuralink, he reminded us that the lines between brain and machine are blurring quickly.

Though Neuralink and BCIs alike are still likely many years away from widespread implementation, their potential benefits and use cases are tantalizing, especially as the technology eventually evolves from stage 1 applications, such as helping those with spinal cord injuries, to more complex ones, such as controlling multiple devices.

It bears remembering, however, that Neuralink is, at its core, a computer — and as with all computing advancements in human history, the more complex and smart computers become, the more attractive targets they become for hackers.

To be sure, the consequences of high-level hacking today are severe, but we’ve never before had computers linked to our brains, which seems a hacker’s ultimate prey.

Our brains hold information computers don’t have. A brain linked to a computer/AI such as a BCI removes that barrier to the brain, potentially allowing hackers to rush in and cause problems we can’t even fathom today. Might hacking humans via BCI be the next major evolution in hacking, carried out through a dangerous combination of past hacking methods?

To better understand how hacking the brain could happen, let’s first examine how the relationship between humans, computers and hacking has evolved over time.

1980s To Mid-1990s: Hacking Tech To Get Human Data

Though hacking has been around since the 1960s, the modern age started in the 1980s when personal computers — and then hackers — made their way into homes.

Hacking took advantage of new and emerging technology that was easily manipulated. Hackers’ treasure during this time was mainly personal and financial information, such as credit card details, and they leveraged technology to get it.

The 1992 film Sneakers — about a black box capable of breaking any encryption code, ensuring there were “no more secrets” — helped popularize and reveal some of the hacking techniques used at the time, such as infiltration, physical intrusion and backdoor access. During this time, computers were the conduit to human data.

Mid-1990s To Today: Hacking Tech Via Humans

As technology became more accessible, humans began storing more of their private, sensitive information within technology, which now held the keys to hackers’ treasure.

While the core theme of Sneakers was to use a black box to cryptographically decipher systems, social engineering was heavily used to gain access to the box — a tactic that has grown exponentially as hackers shift their approach. Instead of breaking into the technology itself, hackers began preying on the vulnerabilities of human behavior (the weakest link) to get into the tech we rely on to store our vital information.

This period has been dominated by phishing and all forms of social engineering — hackers’ psychological manipulation of humans to persuade them into doing the hackers’ bidding. During this period, humans have been the conduit to technology.

The Future: Hacking Humans Via Tech

Previous eras were defined by obstacles between hackers and their targets, which were in place due to the inherent physical disconnect between humans and technology. However, what happens when that disconnect between humans and tech is blurred? When they’re essentially one and the same?

This is a top security concern of BCI tech like Neuralink. The technology’s core promise — enabling the brain to communicate directly with computers — might also turn out to be its biggest security flaw. There would no longer be a separation between humans and computers that requires some form of authentication and judgment.

Should a computing device literally connected to the brain, as Neuralink is, become hacked, the consequences could be catastrophic, giving hackers ultimate control over someone.

If Neuralink penetrates deep into the human brain with high fidelity, what might hacking a human look like? Following traditional patterns, hackers would likely target individuals with high net worths and perhaps attempt to manipulate them into wiring millions of dollars to a hacker’s offshore bank account. Executives in boardrooms could be hacked into making decisions, resulting in significant financial consequences.

In a more alarming scenario, should a hacker take control of a large population of people, they could manipulate them to vote for a certain candidate, party or issue, covertly toppling governments and entire state infrastructures. And in the most severe scenario, hacking a Neuralink-like device could turn “hosts” into programmable drone armies capable of doing anything their “master” wanted. Autopilot software features in cars have already resulted in deaths; imagine what a hacked army of sentient beings could do.

Some Perspective

Though the above scenarios are far-fetched, and Neuralink may still be far off, it’s never too early to examine how the inevitable hacking could play out. Some experts believe that the singularity — the point at which artificial intelligence reaches that of human intelligence — will happen by 2045. And, as cybersecurity professionals know all too well, hackers are usually one step ahead of security protocols, so it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” they will attack a Neuralink-type device.

To be clear, technological progress is fundamental to human progress. It always has and always will be. BCIs hold tremendous potential for good. However, technological progress must be done thoughtfully, keeping in mind one critical aspect of the “human element” of security — ethics. I’m reminded of one of Sun Tzu’s strategic tenants, “悬权而动,” which says you should always “think deep and carefully deliberate” before you make your strategic move. Now is the time to develop a robust set of responsible big data, AI ethical frameworks and governance that companies must follow when developing such intrusive technology like BCIs.

Finally, for those aspiring to venture into the BCI space, I would like to leave you with some powerful words from chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, who has had much of his career challenged by machines and AI: “We have free will, our machines do not. … We have to have human accountability, human ethics, built in from the start.”

Jason Lau, Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), Hong Kong
Jason Lau, Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), Hong Kong

Jason Lau is currently the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at Crypto.com where he drives the global cybersecurity and information privacy strategy. Jason led his team to become the first cryptocurrency company in the world to have company-wide certifications in ISO 27001:2013, ISO 27701:2019, PCI:DSS 3.2.1 and to conform with the Cryptocurrency Security Standard (CCSS) and meeting the highest “Adaptive” tier of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework and NIST Privacy Framework. Prior to this, Jason was a regional Cybersecurity Advisor at Microsoft, leading Microsoft’s cybersecurity and GDPR initiatives in Asia Pacific. Jason holds the title of Adjunct Professor of cybersecurity and data privacy at one of Asia’s leading business schools, and the regional lead, advisory board, co-chair and faculty member of the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP). Jason also sits on the advisory board of Tencent’s Finance Academy, advising on FinTech and cybersecurity ecosystem development in the region. Jason has over 20 years in consulting experience for Fortune 500 companies in the fields of management consulting, cybersecurity, IT governance, privacy and risk management, and holds certifications such as CISSP, CDPSE, CGEIT, CISA, CISM, CRISC, CIPP/E, CIPM, CIPT, CEH, CNDA, CSM, HCISPP and more. Jason was one of the first worldwide to achieve ISO27701:2019 Senior Lead Auditor and Senior Lead Implementer status, and is a ISO27001:2013 Lead Auditor a Fellow of Information Privacy (FIP) and Fellow of the Hong Kong Institute of Directors (FHKIoD). Jason has won multiple awards including the “Cybersecurity Professional Award”, and “Outstanding Financial Technologist of the Year (Data Privacy)”, and voted a “Top 50 global thought leader and influencer on cybersecurity”, selected by industry peers into the “Global CISO 100” and most recently, Hong Kong Business Magazine Executive of the Year for Cybersecurity. Jason also sits on industry advisory groups and participates on various global security and privacy think tanks like the World Economic Forum’s Expert Network, Centre for Information Policy Leadership (CIPL) and the Standing Committee on Technological Developments for the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data, Hong Kong. Jason has over a decade in the Healthcare industry across 5 continents safeguarding highly sensitive Protected Health Information (PHI) for hospitals and healthcare providers, and is a certified HealthCare Information Security and Privacy Professional (HCISPP). Jason also sits on various industry committees on the ethical use of Big Data and Artificial Intelligence. Jason holds a bachelor degree in engineering (Honors) and bachelor degree in commerce, and completed executive programs at Stanford and Harvard.

How do chips and brain hacking change the way we see intellectual property and personal privacy? Technology, medical marvels, machinery and human are increasingly blending and blurring lines. How do you impact the way you define humanity? What permissions are a must?

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Fact check: Americans won’t have microchips implanted by end of 2020

The claim: All Americans will receive a microchip implant by the end of the year

Source: USA Today

A viral article from the website My Healthy Life Guru claims that all Americans will receive a microchip implant by the end of the year.

“Some people are concerned that the federal government will be very influential with this revolutionized RFID Microchip,” the article states. “They could see every move we make.”

The article also asserts, “Your food and money will be also managed with these microchips.”

It attributes the claim in part to NBC News, and links to a two-minute clip on YouTube of a technology report on “Life in the U.S. in Ten Years Time” from May 2007.

“The year is 2017,” intones reporter Tom Costello. “You’re rushed to a hospital unconscious with no ID or medical history. But thanks to a microchip under your skin it’s all there. Science fiction 20 years ago but a biometric reality today.”

In fact, 2017 has come and gone — and this “biometric reality” has yet to occur. Is it imminent in 2020?

The reality of microchips in 2020

Radio-frequency identification technology — or RFID — has been commercially available in various forms since the 1970s. It refers to a wireless system of tags and readers that communicate via radio waves.

Readers have one or more antenna that emits radio waves and receives signals back from tags in the vicinity, per the Food and Drug Administration. The tags may contain information ranging from one serial number to several pages of data.

The technology appears throughout daily life, including in car keys, employee identification, medical billing, highway toll tags and security access cards, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Chris Diorio, the CEO of Impinj, the world’s leading supplier of RAIN RFID, told USA TODAY that some of the fear and confusion about RFID technology stems from the fact that “saying RFID is about as broad as saying radio.”Get the Checking the Facts newsletter in your inbox.

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Various types of microchips with specific capabilities are suited for different purposes. 

RAIN RFID allows about 1,000 item tags to be read per second at a 30-foot range, Diorio explained. That’s why it is primarily associated “with traceability of items through the supply chain,” where it improves retailers’ ability to quickly and accurately inventory their products.

That’s different from the type of near-field communication RFID that’s in an iPhone, for example, and allows monetary transactions with a single tap at a very close range — the technology behind Apple Pay.

And those are both different from the low-frequency RFID that is used for animal identification purposes, including for livestock and pets.

A hand, wearing a medical glove, holds several RFID tags.
Source: USA Today
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Implantation in humans remains uncommon, unpopular

In 1998, Kevin Warwick, a British scientist known as “Captain Cyborg,” became the first human to receive a microchip implant, according to The Atlantic.

Two decades later, though, the technology is still far from common.

In 2018, its most widespread use was in tech-forward Sweden, where an estimated 4,000 citizens use microchips implanted in their hands to store emergency contacts and enable easy access to homes, offices and gyms, according to NPR.

There are also no reported instances of involuntary microchip implantation.

“It’s just never hide-able,” Diorio said. Microchips implanted in pets are the size of a pill capsule, and that’s “about as small as you can get it.”

Even if chips were implanted, Diorio said there’s little reason to fear covert tracking, since the read-range of RFID in humans is limited by the amount of salt water in our bodies. (Radio signals die rapidly in water.)

“The idea of any kind of surreptitious implantation into a human is not really possible, and if you could get something, the ability to read it would be severely constrained,” Diorio said.

For that same reason, he said the microchips in pets are “really hard” to read. They are implanted in the neck, and the reader has to come “right on the neck” to extract any information from the chip, Diorio explained. 

It’s certainly invasive enough that a human would notice it. 

There’s also already been pushback against chipping in the United States.

Indiana, Nevada, Arkansas, Missouri, and Montana prohibit employers from requiring chip implants, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as reported in State Net Capitol Journal. Laws passed in California, Maryland, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Utah prohibit the required implantation of a microchip in any person, not just employees.

Heightened suspicions in recent months

This is not the first time misinformation about microchips and RFID has proliferated online in the past few months — from claims that the federal governmentBill Gates, and schools will use a vaccine for COVID-19 as a vehicle for microchips, to fears about the presence of RFID chips in bras and tires.

Fact check:Yes, there’s a national coin shortage. Here’s why

Recent posts questioning the legitimacy of the very real national coin shortage even link it to the powers that be “wanting us to have a chip in our hand.”

Fact check:A cashless society isn’t imminent and wouldn’t mean total end of cash.

Elise Wang, a lecturer at Duke University and an expert on conspiracy theories, told USA TODAY that she believes microchip conspiracies are trending because they are “far more manageable than the real fears we have right now, like coronavirus and our economy collapsing.”

“The idea of fear of a specific, small device being implanted in you — that feels almost manageable. It’s physical, it could be removed,” she said. “We can grasp that actually better than we can grasp the effect that this disease is going to have on us or the way the economy is going to go from here.”

Fact check:Though nasal test for COVID-19 swabs deep into the nose, nothing is implanted

Fear of tracking is also common, though unfounded, when it comes to RFID.

“It’s a long-standing trope that people think they’re being spied on, followed, traced,” Joseph Uscinski, a political science professor at the University of Miami who studies conspiracy theories, told USA TODAY.

Most microchips are also not constantly transmitting information and do not perform real-time “tracking.”

Take the example of the bras that contain microchips on their tags or care labels, which viral posts claimed were linked to sex trafficking. 

Fact check:Victoria’s Secret’s RFID tags do not track customers

“The only time you can read it is when you have a reader nearby that can read the tag,” Diorio explained. Readers must have antennae, which he said are “reasonably sized” — at least big enough that within a 10-foot read range, they’d be easy to spot, preventing surreptitious scanning.

Even if a bra’s tag was scanned, though, the only information likely to be available would be a product code — not personal information.

Speculative reports on RFID have also fueled conspiracy theories

Rob Brotherton, who wrote a book on conspiracy theories, told USA TODAY that suspicions about microchips have also been fueled by reports about potential future capabilities of the technology.

For example, in 2017, USA TODAY wrote “You will get chipped — eventually.” In 2018, The Atlantic also published the headline “Why You’re Probably Getting a Microchip Implant Someday.”

Fact check:No, schools will not require a COVID-19 vaccine, with RFID chip, for students

“If you’re inclined to suspect that someone might want to track you using some kind of secretive technology and might use the current pandemic as cover to instigate their plan, you don’t exactly have to look too hard to find stories in reputable news sources — not some shady fake news sites — that seem to lend an element of plausibility to your hunch,” Brotherton wrote in an email.

Fact check:Feds buy syringes that may have RFID chips, but no evidence COVID-19 vaccination required

Neither USA TODAY nor The Atlantic suggested that implantation would occur without consent, though, and USA TODAY noted that RFID technology lacks GPS capabilities at this time.

The claims can also be difficult to fact-check because they often point to the future — which is unknown.

“We can’t really say that it’s false because the future hasn’t happened and we don’t know,” Uscinski said. “It may very well happen in the future that we may get chipped, but that doesn’t mean it would be part of some malevolent plot or have anything to do with COVID or Bill Gates or anything like that.”

Why do you think chip implants are unpopular? Would you get one? What are the health, privacy and human concerns regarding chip implants? Why? Why not? Can chips be protected completely from hacking? How are people protected from criminals and criminal activity via chip implants? How should the industry be regulated? Do you know how a chip works? What should you and do you want to know?

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Neuroreality: The New Reality is Coming. And It’s a Brain Computer Interface

In the future, brain chips will govern how we experience reality.

KRISTIN HOUSERJULY 26TH 2017
Source: Futurism

The Virtual World

With the release of the Oculus Rift in March 2016, the age of virtual reality (VR) truly began. VR tech had been generating buzz since the 1990s, but the Rift was the first high-end VR system to reach the consumer market, and early reviews confirmed that it delivered the kind of experience users had been hoping for.

Research into VR exploded in this new era, and experts soon started to find innovative ways to make virtual experiences more immersive…more real. To date, VR technologies have moved beyond just sight and sound. We’ve developed technologies that let users touch virtual objects, feel changes in wind and temperature, and even taste food in VR.

However, despite all this progress, no one would mistake a virtual environment for the real world. The technology simply isn’t advanced enough, and as long as we rely solely on traditional headsets and other wearables, it never will be.

Before we can create a world that is truly indistinguishable from the real one, we will need to leave the age of virtual reality behind and enter a new era — the era of neuroreality.

Reality 2.0

Neuroreality refers to a reality that is driven by technologies that interface directly with the human brain. While traditional VR depends on a user physically reacting to external stimuli (for example, swinging a controller to wield a virtual sword on a screen) a neuroreality system interfaces directly with the user’s biology through a brain-computer interface (BCI).

Notably, this technology isn’t some far-flung sci-fi vision. It’s very real.

To rehash the basics: BCIs are a means of connecting our brains to machines, and they can be either invasive (requiring an implant of some sort) or non-invasive (relying on electrodes or other external tech to detect and direct brain signals). Experts have predicted that advances in BCIs will lead to a new era in human evolution, as these devices have the potential to revolutionize how we treat diseaseslearncommunicate…in short, they are set to utterly transform how we see and interact with the world around us.

In fact, some companies are already innovating in the newly emerging field of neuroreality.

Founded by physicist Dan Cook in 2013, EyeMynd’s goal is to create a VR system that allows the user to navigate a virtual world simply by thought—no immersion-breaking controller required.

“When you’re in the virtual world—whether you’re playing a game or something else—you don’t want to have to keep thinking about what you’re doing with your hands,” Cook told Digital Trends in November. “It’s much better to have pure brainwave control. It will be a much more satisfying experience and will allow for a much greater level of immersion. You can forget about your live human body, and just focus on what’s going on in front of you.”

Cook likens the experience to dreaming. “In a dream, you can run around without moving your physical legs. That dreaming and imagining creates brain signals that we can read,” he told The Guardian. “With what we want to do, you won’t need eyeballs to see, or ears to hear, or hands and feet. We can bypass all of that.”

EyeMynd’s system is non-invasive, meaning it wouldn’t require the user to undergo any sort of device implantation. Instead, they would wear a headset that includes EEG sensors to track their brainwaves.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=embed/7bROnoryZ_k?feature=oembed

Cook’s isn’t the only company exploring the use of brainwave-detecting external tech to make the VR experience feel more seamless. Boston-based startup Neurable, bioinformatics company EMOTIV, and social networking giant Facebook are all working on non-invasive devices that would allow users to navigate the virtual world through thought alone.

However, as Joy Lyons, chief technology officer of audio tech startup OSSICtold Vice at the 2016 VRLA Summer Expo, the ideal hardware for creating a new reality isn’t an external headset, no matter how advanced. It’s “a chip in the brain.”

A World In Your Mind

Earlier this year, serial entrepreneur Elon Musk founded Neuralink, a company with the goal of developing cutting-edge technology that connects a person’s brain to the digital world through an array of implanted electrodes. Shortly before Musk’s announcement, Braintree founder Bryan Johnson announced a similar venture—that he is investing $100 million to unlock the power of the human brain and make our neural code programmable. Johnson’s company, Kernel, is working to create the world’s first neuroprosthesis

Musk himself has predicted that we’ll eventually be able to create computer simulations that are indistinguishable from reality, and if these brain interfaces come to fruition, they could act as the platform through which we experience those simulations, allowing us to not only see a realistic world but touch it and truly feel it.

In a detailed report announcing the launch of Neuralink, Tim Urban described the potential impact of this proposed tech on our understanding of reality. Instead of relying on external hardware like goggles, gloves, and headphones to trick our senses into believing that what we encounter in the virtual world is real, we could program realities that trigger the same parts of our brains that would be engaged if the experiences actually were real.

“There would be no more need for screens of course — because you could just make a virtual screen appear in your visual cortex. Or jump into a VR movie with all your senses,” asserted Urban. “You’ll be able to actually experience almost anything for free.”

The same part of your brain that is stimulated when you taste pizza could be triggered to engage when you bite into a slice in this new reality, and the same part that lets you smell the ocean air in reality could  be simulated and provide that feeling while standing on the shore of a virtual Atlantic ocean.

The difference between the real world and the virtual one would be undetectable. For all intents and purposes, a difference would not exist.

Figuring out the tech to actually make this happen won’t be easy, and overcoming the non-tech related obstacles will present an additional challenge (such as developing a comprehensive map of the human brain and all our neurons). Elective brain surgery is an extremely controversial subject, and past experiments haven’t yielded such promising results. Neuralink and like-minded companies will need to engage in years of research before their devices will be ready for human implantation, and even then, they’ll have regulatory hurdles to overcome.

Still, BCI research is progressing rapidly, so while a system of electrodes that can effectively project an entirely new world directly into our brains might seem like a sci-fi pipe dream, it really shouldn’t. After all, just two decades ago, the virtual reality experience delivered today by the Rift felt woefully out of reach, and now, anyone with $600 can bring it home with them (and the price is dropping at a remarkable rate).

As Cook told The Guardian, we aren’t as far as we may think from the day when navigating virtual worlds using just our thoughts is the norm: “Ten years from now, this will seem obvious.”

Disclosure: Bryan Johnson is an investor in Futurism; he does not hold a seat on our editorial board or have any editorial review privileges.

MindControl VR by ARworks at MWC, Barcelona 2017

Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook
Source: Futurism
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

What are the health implications for a human, Artificial Intelligence and computer integration? What are the privacy implications? What are the implications for humanity? Have there been clinical trails? How long were the clinical trails? Were any of the clinical trials companies fined and why? Are the inventors and those conducting clinical trails willing to lead by example?

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Elon Musk hopes to put a computer chip in your brain. Who wants one?

By Rachel Metz, CNN Business
Updated 11:36 AM EDT, Sun July 21, 2019
Source: CNN

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 14: Engineer and tech entrepreneur Elon Musk of The Boring Company  listens as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks about constructing a high speed transit tunnel at Block 37 during a news conference on June 14, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. Musk said he could create a 16-passenger vehicle to operate on a high-speed rail system that could get travelers to and from downtown Chicago and O
Source: CNN
Shidonna Raven Garden and Cook

This week Elon Musk unveiled his most sci-fi project thus far: a computer chip connected to exceptionally slender wires with electrodes on them, all of which is meant to be embedded in a person’s brain by a surgical robot. The implant would connect wirelessly to a small behind-the-ear receiver that could communicate with a computer.

Musk hopes the implant, created by his brain-computer interface startup Neuralink, could one day help quadriplegics control smartphones, and perhaps even endow users with a sort of telepathy. Like existing brain-machine interfaces, it would collect electrical signals sent out by the brain and interpret them as actions.

Elon Musk, shown here in March 2019 before unveiling Tesla

Elon Musk, shown here in March 2019 before unveiling Tesla’s Model Y, is working on a chip he hopes will eventually be implanted in people’s brains. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)PHOTO: Jae C. Hong/AP

Neuralink, which was founded in 2016, has already tested an early, wired version of this implant in rats (and Musk indicated it has enabled a monkey to control a computer with his brain, too); Musk said human trials could start by the end of next year, though the company doesn’t yet have approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for such a study. (And, it should be noted, Musk, who is also CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, has a history of making outlandish technological claims: for instance, the he said in a recent interview that getting humans to Mars in 4 years “sounds doable.”)

Neuralink’s promise of a brain-connected device that looks as nondescript as a hearing aid — the kind of thing you could hide with hair or a hat — is exciting to scientists who have spent years working on this technology.

“The general idea and their motivation, I think, are spot on,” said Andrew Schwartz, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh and pioneer in the brain-machine interface field.

And, in fact, a number of experts told CNN Business that Neuralink could, in the coming years, be a boon for people with conditions such as quadriplegia, enabling increased independence and ushering potentially life-transforming technology out of the lab and into the real world.

But will it be, as Musk envisions, the kind of device that the average person will one day sign up for, too? Probably not, Schwartz and other experts who spoke with CNN Business agreed.

How a brain chip could help

The idea of a brain-machine interface is not new; scientists have been working on them for decades, and they have been implanted and tested in animals such as monkeys as well as in people. There are some FDA-approved deep-brain stimulation devices meant for, among other things, controlling tremors in people with Parkinson’s disease, and several tech companies have worked on their own methods for connecting the brain to computers: Facebook, for instance, has worked on a non-invasive device to let you send text messages by thinking.

Neuralink envisions a brain implant that can connect wirelessly with a small receiver that sits behind the ear.PHOTO: Neuralink

Yet these efforts tend to be confined to labs for a number of reasons: they’re expensive, bulky, require training (of both the user and the computer), and, when it comes to an under-the-skull implant, the person outfitted with it generally must be physically tethered to a computer for it to work.

Virginia de Sa, a professor studying brain-computer interfaces at the University of California San Diego, said several of Neuralink’s ideas sound “very promising,” such as the use of very fine wires to implant electrodes in the brain — the thinner they are, she said, the less damage they’ll do to the brain, and, hopefully, the longer they’ll last.

Schwartz sees the potential in Neuralink’s design, particularly its plans to miniaturize the components of the implant, make it wireless, and improve the electrode technology.

He believes the wireless aspect of it is key, noting that getting FDA approval for such an implant includes a risk assessment, and the riskiest part of today’s brain-computer interfaces involves a connector that comes through the patient’s skin to link the implant to a computer.

“By removing that whole thing, it becomes a much safer technology,” he said, as it reduces the risk of an infection in the patient.

Neuralink president Max Hodak said during the presentation that the company’s plan for its first product includes it being able to control mobile devices and a keyboard or mouse, though he noted that, as of now, “these are aspirations.”

It doesn’t sound outlandish, though. Schwartz has already worked with systems that can let paralyzed patients pick up objects with a robotic hand and even get some sensory feedback (Musk said Tuesday that Neuralink’s device would also be able to both read brain signals and send feedback). He can imagine that, some day in the future, a person with a severe impairment who is outfitted with a device such as the one Neuralink outlined could become much more autonomous.

A paralyzed person, for instance, would still be sitting in a wheelchair, he said, but perhaps they’d be able to drive it by thinking rather than using a joystick, and even control a prosthetic arm connected to the chair as well.

“They could potentially do their own laundry,” he said.

It’s still brain surgery

During his presentation, Musk said Neuralink aims to make the surgery for the company’s implant “equivalent to a LASIK type of thing where you sit down, a machine does its thing, and you can walk away within a few hours,” all without a hospital stay.

He spoke about the wires that would be implanted under a person’s skull as threads; a robot for implanting them would bypass blood vessels and cause “minimal trauma,” he claimed.

A Neuralink robot for placing slender electrodes inside the brain.PHOTO: Neuralink

It sounds simpler than the way people receive implants today. Essentially, as things work now, the skull is cut open, the brain is exposed, chips are installed, connectors are mounted to the skull, and the head is stitched up.

Yet the reality is that implanting a device underneath the skull will remain brain surgery. Neuralink acknowledges it will still need to bore a hole in your skull, for instance.

“It’s still surgery; it’s still risky,” de Sa said. “People can die in even the simplest surgeries.”

Beyond the risks of a medical procedure, there are security concerns, too. Nataliya Kosmina, a postdoctoral associate at the MIT Media Lab, said she “freaked out” when she saw the portion of the presentation in which Neuralink president Max Hodak mentioned that the implant is meant to be controlled with an iPhone app; she pointed out that someone hacking into such an app could be far more dangerous than if they were to, say, hack your bank account.

“As much time and effort as we’re all going to spend to make these kinds of devices and implants accessible and safe and put them out there, we would need to spend the same amount of time and energy on first, ethical issues, and second, privacy and security,” she said.

Who will want one?

For now, Neuralink said it is working on a brain chip to help with serious medical conditions, but Musk eventually wants it to appeal to all kinds of people. Several experts said they can’t envision most people clamoring for Neuralink’s brain chip, however.

“It’s really like a sort of a science-fiction vision that gets some people excited about it, but I don’t see the market for something like that,” said Andrew Hires, an assistant professor of neurobiology at USC. “The technological development would have to go so far beyond what would currently be capable with a device like this.”

Schwartz agreed, saying that while scientists can decode fairly complex brain signals related to, say, how we move our hands and fingers, they are just starting to understand things such as how to apply force to objects or manipulate them in the real world.

When it comes to more futuristic applications of the technology to things like thought transmission, memory enhancement or working with artificial intelligence, he said, “we’re nowhere close to understanding anything like that.”

Some states are already working against employers implanting chip in their employees. Chips are already on the market in some form. What do you know about human chip implants? What they can do? If they can be hacked? And the health and human implications?

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Why Elon Musk’s pigs are a legal headache

Elon Musk (credit: Duncan.Hull via Wikimedia Commons) and Gertrude
Source: Legal Cheek
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William Holmes, Legal Cheeck
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By William Holmes
on Dec 16 2020 9:18am
Source: Legal Cheek

Bristol University student and future trainee William Holmes explores the challenges ahead for brain-computer interface (BCI) systems

Elon Musk’s pig, Gertrude, looks like any other pig. But the coin-sized chip Musk’s company Neuralink have placed in Gertrude’s brain makes her a key part of a ground-breaking experiment to discover if technology can enable us to do things with thoughts.

The chip is a brain-computer interface (BCI) which picks up neural activity. Musk hopes to decode this neural activity so that it can be understood as instructions for a computer, allowing BCI users to control a computer with their minds. In other words, BCIs can transform a thought into an act.

For many who have lost certain bodily functions, BCI technology is a scientific miracle. The technology has the potential to treat neurological conditions like dementia or Parkinson’s, restore paralysed individual’s ability to control their bodies and even allow the blind to see again. But for prosecutors, judges and policy makers, BCIs are a troubling legal headache.

Proving criminal responsibility for most crimes requires the prosecution to prove both a defendant’s criminal act (actus reus) and intention (mens rea). So, how would this work for a defendant who used a BCI to commit a crime? An act is defined in most legal systems as “a bodily movement” (the quote here is from the US Model Penal Code). But a crime committed using a BCI involves no bodily movement. Nevertheless, if we take a neuroscientific approach, this is not an insurmountable obstacle for a prosecutor.

The chain of causation for a BCI user is as follows. First, the BCI user imagines an act that they want the computer to perform (I shall refer to this as a “mental act”). Second, neural activity is triggered by the mental act that is input for the BCI. Finally, the BCI interprets this neural activity and performs the act. Just as a finger pulls the trigger on a gun, neural activity triggers the BCI. Therefore, the neurons that fire and produce measurable neural activity could plausibly be considered the actus reus in cases involving the use of BCI technology. So, it appears that a legal loophole in prosecuting disembodied acts can be avoided. But at a price.

By finding actus reus in the activity of a defendant’s neurons, we have been forced to expand the law into the mental sphere. This is a sphere which, in keeping with the Roman law maxim that “nobody shall be punished for thoughts” (cogitationis poenam nemo patitur), is not regulated by the law. In the UK, this doctrine is a right enshrined in article 9 of the Human Rights Act 1998. Given the repercussions for our freedom of thought, is it acceptable to regulate BCIs? If not, can legal systems that only regulate outward behaviour properly maintain the rule of law in BCI cases?

The middle ground between a BCI Wild West and criminalising thoughts is granting BCI users the ability to waive their right to freedom of thought. For those that this technology offers the most, for example tetraplegics, this may well be a right they are happy to waive. Should an individual be allowed to take such a decision? Legislators would have to step in to clarify who can use BCIs and judges would have to recognise implied consent from BCI users to waive this right to freedom of thought.

When deciding this, we must not ignore how significant this expansion of government regulation would be. For the first time, certain thoughts or mental acts would be outlawed. As a result, law-abiding BCI users will be forced to think before they think, regulating themselves in an unprecedented way. This is the immediate ‘legal headache’: BCIs force us to consider the merits of breaking a human right that is fundamental to democratic society and individual liberty in order to avoid criminal loopholes.

There is, however, a second long-term ‘legal headache’. Using the brain’s neurons to establish responsibility forces us to reconsider how we determine responsibility more broadly. How we attribute responsibility is (and has always been) a social decision. In some societies in the past, if an act was compelled or inspired by a divine force, then the law did not deem the individual responsible. In societies where an artist considered the muses responsible for their work, an acceptable waiver of responsibility was the excuse that “God made me do it”.

Today, we consider acting people to be responsible. But this could change in the future, especially if BCIs help to promote neuroscience to the forefront of the legal system. A recent example that highlights the influence of neuroscience on policy is Holland’s adolescent criminal law that came into force in 2014. This law allows those aged between 16 and 22 to be tried as an adult or as a juvenile at the court’s discretion. The underlying rationale is based on neuroscience: Holland’s new system hopes to take into consideration the mental development of defendants when sentencing them. This represents a social shift that sees the brain as the responsible agent.

This shift, which was famously critiqued as “brain overclaim syndrome” by Stephen J. Morse, could have some troubling consequences. The data recorded by BCIs (especially from the amygdala which regulates emotion) offers temptingly persuasive evidence for a defendant’s mens rea and mental state. The question for judges is whether this data is admissible evidence.

A neurocentric legal culture would encourage a judge to admit such evidence. If admissible, a high level of cross-examination is vital to ensure that there is clarity around neuroscience’s technical and interpretive limits. For example, there is evidence that factors like parenting and socio-economic status change the way the amygdala and prefrontal cortex function. The fact that neuroscientific technology is overwhelmingly tested on students from Western Educated Industrialised Rich and Democratic (WEIRD) population means that there is a possible bias in interpreting neuroscientific information. Unquestioned, these limitations allow lawyers to cast uncertain aspersions based on competing expert testimony which could lead juries to jump to false conclusions.

Furthermore, if the brain is considered responsible for criminality, then a reform of the penal system is implicit. The chances of recidivism and the methods with which guilty prisoners are treated — be it regenerative or punitive — would no longer be based on human nature and character. Instead, neuroscience would nuance our understanding of criminality and how to treat it. And the result might not be dissimilar to the Ludovico Technique, a type of psychological treatment that Antony Burgess portrays in his dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange.

Gertrude the pig is just the start of a technology that could rewire the legal norms of responsibility and radically change the legal concept of action. In light of this, policy makers and judges must prepare the criminal justice system for advent of BCIs. There is currently no regulation that is specific to BCI technology in the UK, as the British government acknowledged in a report published in January 2020. That is because the technology is still being developed and there are no clear solutions yet. But one thing is for sure: Elon Musk’s pigs promise to be a complex legal headache for scholars, lawyers, judges and legislators for decades to come.

William Holmes is a penultimate year student at the University of Bristol studying French, Spanish and Italian. He has a training contract offer with a magic circle law firm.

BCI is cutting edge and so are the criminals who use it to commit crimes. The health care industry is not stranger to crime such as sexual assault, fraud and stalking all in the name of health and science. How do parents protect their children from criminals? How does society protect women? How do you protect intellectual rights? How do you prevent hacking? Will humanity always prevail or how can this technology be used to put technology over people in the hands of criminals?

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Elon Musk unveils Neuralink’s plans for brain-reading ‘threads’ and a robot to insert them

Elon Musk’s Neuralink: what’s science and what’s not

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Source: The Verge
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What are the health and ethical implications of Elon Musk neuroscience invention? How does sound play into this matter? How can deepfake impact such an invention?

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‘Cyborg’ technology could enable new diagnostics, merger of humans and AI

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Date: August 17, 2020
Source: American Chemical Society
Feature Photo Source: Unsplash, thisisengineering


Summary: Although true ‘cyborgs’ are science fiction, researchers are moving toward integrating electronics with the body. Such devices could monitor tumors or replace damaged tissues. But connecting electronics directly to human tissues in the body is a huge challenge. Today, a team is reporting new coatings for components that could help them more easily fit into this environment.


Although true “cyborgs” — part human, part robotic beings — are science fiction, researchers are taking steps toward integrating electronics with the body. Such devices could monitor for tumor development or stand in for damaged tissues. But connecting electronics directly to human tissues in the body is a huge challenge. Now, a team is reporting new coatings for components that could help them more easily fit into this environment.

The researchers will present their results today at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Fall 2020 Virtual Meeting & Expo. 

“We got the idea for this project because we were trying to interface rigid, inorganic microelectrodes with the brain, but brains are made out of organic, salty, live materials,” says David Martin, Ph.D., who led the study. “It wasn’t working well, so we thought there must be a better way.”

Traditional microelectronic materials, such as silicon, gold, stainless steel and iridium, cause scarring when implanted. For applications in muscle or brain tissue, electrical signals need to flow for them to operate properly, but scars interrupt this activity. The researchers reasoned that a coating could help.

“We started looking at organic electronic materials like conjugated polymers that were being used in non-biological devices,” says Martin, who is at the University of Delaware. “We found a chemically stable example that was sold commercially as an antistatic coating for electronic displays.” After testing, the researchers found that the polymer had the properties necessary for interfacing hardware and human tissue.

“These conjugated polymers are electrically active, but they are also ionically active,” Martin says. “Counter ions give them the charge they need so when they are in operation, both electrons and ions are moving around.” The polymer, known as poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) or PEDOT, dramatically improved the performance of medical implants by lowering their impedance two to three orders of magnitude, thus increasing signal quality and battery lifetime in patients.

Martin has since determined how to specialize the polymer, putting different functional groups on PEDOT. Adding a carboxylic acid, aldehyde or maleimide substituent to the ethylenedioxythiophene (EDOT) monomer gives the researchers the versatility to create polymers with a variety of functions.

“The maleimide is particularly powerful because we can do click chemistry substitutions to make functionalized polymers and biopolymers,” Martin says. Mixing unsubstituted monomer with the maleimide-substituted version results in a material with many locations where the team can attach peptides, antibodies or DNA. “Name your favorite biomolecule, and you can in principle make a PEDOT film that has whatever biofunctional group you might be interested in,” he says.

Most recently, Martin’s group created a PEDOT film with an antibody for vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) attached. VEGF stimulates blood vessel growth after injury, and tumors hijack this protein to increase their blood supply. The polymer that the team developed could act as a sensor to detect overexpression of VEGF and thus early stages of disease, among other potential applications.

Other functionalized polymers have neurotransmitters on them, and these films could help sense or treat brain or nervous system disorders. So far, the team has made a polymer with dopamine, which plays a role in addictive behaviors, as well as dopamine-functionalized variants of the EDOT monomer. Martin says these biological-synthetic hybrid materials might someday be useful in merging artificial intelligence with the human brain.

Ultimately, Martin says, his dream is to be able to tailor how these materials deposit on a surface and then to put them in tissue in a living organism. “The ability to do the polymerization in a controlled way inside a living organism would be fascinating.”

What are your thoughts on cyborgs? What are your thoughts on cyborgs within the context of the pandemic? Do you think Elon Musk is correct, we are already cyborgs or do you think scientists can create cyborgs?

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‘If you can’t beat them join them’: Elon Musk says our best hope for competing with AI is becoming better cyborgs

Source: Business Insider
Graham Rapier Aug 29, 2019, 11:08 AM

Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd Executive Chairman Jack Ma attend the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai, China, August 29, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song
Source: Business Insider
Tesla Inc CEO Musk and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd Executive Chairman Ma attend the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai 
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  • Elon Musk talked artificial intelligence with Alibaba chairman Jack Ma in Shanghai on Thursday. 
  • Musk doubled down on his previous warnings that AI will overtake human intelligence
  • The Tesla CEO also took the time to mention his latest bet, Neuralink, and its planned brain-computer interface that could let human compete with AI. 

Elon Musk was in China on Thursday, but not to talk Tesla and its new factory in the country.

Instead, the chief executive talked artificial intelligence on stage next to Alibaba founder Jack Ma, and doubled down on his warnings that the technology could pose grave risks to human society as we know it.

“Generally, people underestimate the capability of AI,” Musk said at the conference in Shanghai. “They sort of think it’s like a smart human, but it’s going to be much more than that. It’ll be much smarter than the smartest human.”

Musk’s proposed solution: “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Amid the myriad of Musk’s corporate bets, one of the more recent endeavors is “Neuralink.” Unveiled in a white paper in July, the company hopes to begin testing its computer-brain interface in humans as early as next year. Experts say the technology is impressive, but called the timeline “delusional.”

“We are already a cyborg,” Musk said. “People don’t realize — we are already a cyborg because we are so well integrated with our phones and our computers. The phone is almost like an extension of yourself. If you forget your phone, it’s like a missing limb. But the communication bandwidth to the phone is very low, especially input.”

That’s why humans desperately need to catch up.

What do you think of robots and cyborgs? What do you think the impact of robots and cyborgs will be on society? What do you think of robots and cyborgs in the context of the pandemic?

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Elon Musk reveals residents in his 2050 Mars city will live in glass domes – and ‘terraform’ the planet to be like Earth

LIFE ON MARS 

  • 20 Nov 2020, 17:43
  • Updated: 20 Nov 2020, 17:54

ELON Musk has plans for humans to live in glass domes on Mars.

Understandbly, a lot of people have questions about how Musk proposes all these people survive.

Terraforming would mean creating the right environment outside the domes so plants could grow just like on Earth and there would be an oxygen supply.

When told that terraforming would be unlikely to work with current technologies Musk had another response.

He said: “Terraforming will be too slow to be relevant in our lifetime. However, we can establish a human base there in our lifetime.

“At least a future spacefaring civilization – discovering our ruins – will be impressed humans got that far.”

Musk has previously admitted that getting to Mars in his SpaceX rockets is the easy part but creating a city there will be tricky.

Musk has previously outlined plans for a Martian colony established by his rocket company, SpaceX. Pictured is an artist impression of the colony with a SpaceX Starship rocket in the background
Musk has previously outlined plans for a Martian colony established by his rocket company, SpaceX. Pictured is an artist impression of the colony with a SpaceX Starship rocket in the backgroundCredit: Space X

A number of studies have concluded that terraforming the entire planet of Mars and changing its atmosphere may not be possible even if all the ice caps were melted to release CO2.

Musk wants a Starship rocket to make the journey to Mars as early as 2021.

During the Satellite 2020 conference earlier this year, Musk said: “If we don’t improve our pace of progress, I’m definitely going to be dead before we go to Mars.”

If his 2050 ambition becomes a reality, Musk will be 79 when one million humans are living in his proposed domes on Mars.

What is SpaceX?

Here’s what you need to know…

SpaceX is a cash-flushed rocket company that wants to take man to Mars.

It was set up by eccentric billionaire Elon Musk in 2002 and is based in Hawthorne, California.

SpaceX’s first aim was to build rockets that could autonomously land back on Earth and be re-used.

Musk hoped the technology would make flying and operating space flights far cheaper.

SpaceX currently uses its reusable rockets to fly cargo to the International Space Station for Nasa.

It also carries satellites and other space tech into orbit for various international governments and companies.

The company took astronauts up to the ISS for the first time in 2020.

Other future missions involve carrying tourists and astronauts to the Moon.

Musk has repeatedly said he believes humanity must colonise Mars to save itself from extinction.

He plans to get a SpaceX rocket to the Red Planet sometime in the 2030s.

Could these sightings and conspiracy theories prove that aliens do exist?

In other space news, human cremated ashes are to be sent to the Moon next year as part of a commercial burial service piggybacking on a Nasa lunar mission.

Wars could be settled in space in the future, a top RAF chief has warned.

And, the first burst of cosmic radio waves to be detected within our galaxy is repeating, according to scientists.

Elon tells us what homes would look like. Astronauts have been eating space food for decades, but that has come from earth.? What will they eat in Mars? How will they grow it? What are the health implications?

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Elon Musk is now world’s second-richest person, as net worth has grown more than $100 billion this year

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Published: Nov. 23, 2020 at 9:55 p.m. ET
By Mike Murphy
Source: Market Watch
Feature Photo: Tesla Logo

Credit Tesla stock, which shot up 6% Monday and is up more than 500% year to date

Elon Musk has added more than $100 billion to his net worth this year, and has passed Bill Gates as the world’s second-richest person.

That’s according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which on Monday ranked the Tesla Inc. chief executive — with a $127.9 billion fortune — above Gates — at $127.7 billion — for the first time.

Musk has profited from the massive surge in Tesla stock, which has skyrocketed more than 520% year to date. Tesla TSLA, +6.42% rose more than 6% to a record close of $521.85 in Monday trading, ending the day with a market cap of around $464 billion. That equated to a $7.2 billion single-day gain in Musk’s net worth.

Musk began the year in 35th place on the index.

Bloomberg noted Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft Corp. MSFT, +1.78%, would likely place higher if he had not given away more than $27 billion of his fortune to the Gates Foundation since 2006.

Amazon.com Inc. AMZN, +0.63% Chief Executive Jeff Bezos is the world’s wealthiest individual, with a fortune of $182 billion, according to Bloomberg, up more than $67 billion this year.

Elon Musk is on the cutting edge, in his own words, of matters such as Space Travel. Why do you think ELon Musk has finally broke the top 20 wealthiest people in the world list recently? What are the implications? Are you interested in Space Travel?

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