Following the authoritarian regimes that instigated World War II, English author George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four as a dystopian view of our future. In the novel, one character notes, “If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself…” and this may be closer to a reality than we think.
On July 10, 2017 the U.S. Department of Defense announced they were investing $65 million to develop technologies that record neurons inside the human brain to create advanced brain-computer interfaces. This is the same type of technology Elon Musk is trying to produce with his new startup Neuralink, but DARPA (the secret experimental wing of the U.S. military) is focusing on alternative technologies.
One of these alternative technologies is led by Matt Angle and his San Jose, California based startup Paradromics Inc. They received an $18 million federal grant to produce an implant the size of a nickel, which can record over one million neurons and send signals back to the brain.
Although brain control may be a concern in the future, the government and companies they have funded are instead focused on medical therapies. The “brain modem” technologies can help restore vision and other neurological disorders, which currently have no existing treatment.
To accomplish their task, Paradromics Inc. and others are using 1960s-era technology from Moldova, a tiny nation squished between Romania and Ukraine. By stretching hot metal and mass-producing extremely thin coils (20 microns thick), Paradromics believe they’ll be able to record over a million neurons at one time and bring sight to those who have never seen before.
The final product of a human-computer interface is still distant, but that hasn’t stopped predictions of the ways BCIs might shape humanity’s future. Scientists familiar with the technologies believe a type of “telepathy” that would enable us to share our thoughts with others without verbalization is possible.
Facebook is working on a thoughts to text device. In one article, Elon Musk promised “consensual telepathy”. In other words, two of the most powerful industry leaders are working on the same technologies as the U.S. government. Although Musk stresses “consensual,” we can’t help but worry about the potentially negative consequences. If governments can read our thoughts, George Orwell’s horrifying premonitions may be proven true, even if they came a few decades early.