Elon Musk

Telepathy: Elon Musk’s Chip: Between Benefits and Risks

Neuralink, Musk’s company, has carried out the first implantation of a chip capable of reading brain waves and transmitting them to a PC. The operation has a therapeutic purpose in a broad sense, but it also presents risks, from health to transhuman drift.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

(ZENIT News – La Bussola Quotidiana / Varese, 01.02.2024).- Telepathy: this is basically the objective Elon Musk has set himself. For now, the attempt is to create a telepathic link between a person and a computer. And all this thanks to Telepathy, a chip to implant in the brain designed by Neuralink, Musk’s neurotechnology company.

Telepathy enables the reading of cerebral waves and the transmission of them to a PC or smartphone so that a person with this implant can write on a keyboard  and move the cursor on the screen. Needless to say, other devices can be controlled with thought: a wheelchair, TV, etc. The recipients of this brain-computer interface are people who have lost the use of their arms or hands, or sight and, therefore, can’t key in a computer. We are talking, for example, about tetraplegics, people with amputated limbs, with ELA [Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis], Parkinson’s disease or blindness. On January 29, Musk announced  on X that Neuralink had carried out the first implant in a person’s brain, and it seems that the operation was a success.



Is this intervention morally licit? The end Musk pursues is therapeutic, hence, good. Therapeutic but not in the strict sense: in fact, people will not recover the use of their hands or their sight. Therapeutic in a broad sense because it has an adjuvant-substitute character. It’s like having a prothesis, as putting on glasses to recover maximum visual function, as a hand prothesis for amputees.

However, if the end is abstractedly good, in order to judge the morality of this invention the possible negative effects of such a discovery must also be taken into account. Last May, Musk announced that he had received a green light to go ahead with the experiment from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. governmental body, which also supervises clinical trials like this one. For now it seems that the FDA continues investigating if this neuronal interface is dangerous. Moreover, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Agency responsible for supervising stock exchanges, has been asked to verify that Musk hasn’t deceived his investors, given that the Guinea pigs used in previous experiments showed paralysis, convulsions and inflammation of the brain before passing to humans. In addition, the economic cost must be taken into account for those who wish to undergo this implant: US$40,000.

Hence, to understand if an implant of this kind is ethically permissible, it’s necessary to put the positive effects on one side of the scale (for a seriously disabled person to communicate again with a PC or a smartphone) and the negative on the other (serious harms to health and considerable costs), and calculate  the probability that both will happen. For example, it will have to be verified if the person who received the first implant is really capable of using a PC and what physical harms will happen in the future, including years later. Moreover, there is the question if this experiment  is really necessary. In fact, voice commands for a PC already exist, or software that enables one to write reading the eye movement in the video. What is clear is that with this trial Musk is looking beyond, far beyond: he is studying the possibility of controlling digital machines with just one thought. And from this perspective, the experiment seems suggestive.

And here two more negative effects arise that must be taken into account. The first is of a cultural nature. This experiment fits fully in the philosophical orientation called transhumanism that, among other things, preaches the cure of all pathologies through technology, thus eradicating the scourge of death, and the empowerment of human faculties primarily through technological grafts. There is talk of cyborgs: human beings in whose bodies hardware is incorporated with therapeutic or perfective ends. The problem doesn’t lie so much in these ends, which in themselves are good, but in the mentality these interventions can foment – a mentality inclined to believe that man can arrive at being an immortal being and to reduce man to a thing, to a robot. Transhumanism leads to the commodification of the person, to an immanent and mechanistic vision of the person and, hence, to a debasement of his/her dignity.

A second risk might be that, in a distant future, people’s thoughts could be read intercepting the transmission of neuronal waves to the PC or being connected to the same telepathy implanted in the brain.

In regard to these two risks, we can say they are remote. In fact, in the first case, the degree of collaboration, namely, of incisiveness in the spread of a transhuman culture is minimal, both on the part of the experimenters as well as, and above all, on the part of the patient. In the second case, the scenario of the reading of the mind, if it becomes a reality, will take place in a long time and then, not excluded, is the creation of technological defenses to avoid this risk (for example, the shielding of devices). Far more important are the possible harms to health mentioned earlier.

From the beginning of time, every technological development has brought with it unavoidable negative effects: let us think of the number of deaths caused by traffic accidents or the building of infrastructures, pathologies stemming from industrialization, etc. However, to drive cars, to build bridges and railroads and to produce goods for consumption continue being, on the whole, good acts because they produce more benefits than harms. And it is in this precise aspect that telepathy will have to be tested.


Translation of the Italian original into Spanish by ZENIT’s Editorial Director and, into English, by Virginia M. Forrester

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation