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Neural Implants Are Right Around the Corner

    

While modern day ethics continue to grapple with questions of how to use, improve, and fairly interpret neurologic findings in contexts ranging from courtrooms to doctors offices, and schoolhouses to offices, there is an unacknowledged elephant in the room.  According to a new article in the Wall Street Journal, neural implants are a viable technology, held back more by minor concerns (how will we charge the implants wirelessly, can we direct them to act on a specific enough area, and how can we hold them in place?) than impassable technological barriers.  Rather than waiting until this technology pushes its way into the consumer marketplace we should confront it today.  Individually, I am concerned that I have not been able to find any publications and statements from the BRAIN Initiative directly addressing this field.

Neural implants seem like an obviously useful technology and we as Americans have not been shy about allowing robotic augmentation to solve serious health problems.  For example, the development of cochlear implants and pacemakers seem to have an inherently positive effect on society, by helping disability with few ethical downsides.  This suggests implants within the skull to address neural disabilities such as Alzheimer’s and paralysis would also be a positive.  But where do we draw the line?  Would it not also be ethical to allow implants for greatly enhanced memory, concentration, mood, and physical performance?  One question this immediately raises to me is the further stratification of social classes and elimination of upward social mobility. Students from low income areas already have a herculean task in competing with students who have access to world class education for jobs.  How can we justify forcing them to compete with implantations only the ultra-rich have access to?  For this reason among many others, this field must be acknowledged and regulated before it arrives, not after.