The Future of Neurotech Brain Implants

Katie Glauner, Contributor

Fast-forward one hundred years, and you’re living in a completely different world. You were born blind, but now you can see. You are smarter, faster, and more charming than you were when you were born. You don’t need to email your mom pictures from your latest trip, you can simply transfer them from your mind to hers and she can see them as if she had been there. The next thing you know, your memory is improved and you can suddenly remember every little detail from the past.

This might sound like science-fiction at first, but scientists are in the process of creating brain chips that can improve different senses such as hearing, sight, memory, motion, and many other various properties. I’m sure you’ve heard of the brain implant for those with epilepsy to help them with their seizures, but scientists are taking this technology to a new level.

In 2002 vision was restored to a completely blind man without any surgery. A jack coming from the camera went straight into into the primary visual cortex of his brain. If you’re trying to imagine what this looks like, think the Matrix. Right now a very similar technology is about to be approved by the FDA for widespread use by blind patients.

In 2000 a quadriplegic patient moved a cursor on a computer screen by using thought. Last year a paralyzed woman fed herself chocolate with a mechanical arm that she controlled with thought. These advances were also due to brain implants connecting the brain with certain machinery and computers. These are very crude advances, but as scientists work harder to improve these technologies, the amount of information we can put in and pull out of the brain is increasing steadily.

Scientists are tapping into more complex regions of the brain through animals. In 2011 the hippocampus chip was created to improve memory. It was an attempt to repair damage to the hippocampus, the area of the brain where humans create new memories. Though tests, the chips ended up improving the memory of rats.

Regions of the brain that have been affected by neurotech brain implantsPhoto Courtesy: Dep. of the Navy SPAWAR

If you think that’s insane, wait until you read this. In 2012 scientists had a crudely trained, rhesus monkey take an IQ test. A brain implant in the frontal cortex allowed scientists to observe patterns on how the monkeys brain works via its decision making and attention skills. Then, they impaired the monkey with a large dose of cocaine. They turned the implant on and it temporarily undid the cocaine’s effects on the brain. It improved the monkeys performance on the test past the monkeys original unaffected score.

If used on humans, Katerine Hamilton, an NRHS student, does not approve. “I think some people would then abuse certain drugs, such as cocaine, because there would be fewer immediate detrimental effects,” she states.

Now, there hasn’t actually been much testing on humans in terms of neurotechnological brain implants, because scientists are already speculating major risks. Many scientists have thought of the possibilities of connecting two humans brain implant chips and allowing them to share thoughts and memories directly. There is actually no way to know what might happen; whether or not they would have infinite access to the others mind, or none at all, or whether one human could influence the others mind and force them to do something or have no effect. One risk they have been thinking about is the possibility of the human brain being infected by a computer virus or malware. The chip would act as a computer connected directly to the brain allowing the transfer of any material, including a virus. The real question is how would this affect us, and would it be possible for our brains to short-circuit?

Upon hearing all of this, NRHS student Katie Harrington explains, “That’s incredible to me that in the future wars will be about technological proficiency rather than a ongoing struggle among arms forces.”

There are reports coming from DARPA, a research branch of the military, that they are thinking of ways to weaponize the human brain creating either a super soldier, or incapacitating the enemy’s brain with electronic pulses. In their pursuit to create weapons, they have toyed around with the idea of eliminating fear and possibly even pain from soldiers. As outlandish as it seems, they’ve also mentioned the idea of making soldiers want to fight (and I don’t mean just someone who wants to fight for their country). I’m sure you’re all imagining some movie you’ve recently seen that sounds oddly similar to what you’ve just read.

But don’t worry, they world of science has created a committee to monitor the world of neurotechnology and make sure no one goes too far. It’s comes from the Center of Bioethics and Human Dignity; a committee that decides whether certain neurological advancements are moral and ethical or not. So whether or not you agree with all of these advances being put to use, you can still sleep at night knowing the world will most likely never be taken over by super human-robots.