Neuralink is the ante-chamber of technological discrimination

Public announcements about brain-computer interfaces and some developments in the field of genetics risk enhancing the discrimination between humans, if we do not take action, now by Andrea Monti – Initially published in Italian by

The announcement of the start of human clinical trials of a brain-computer interface developed by Neuralink, one of Elon Musk’s high-tech companies, has inevitably triggered a wave of sensationalism. It also conjured up for the first time science fiction scenarios populated by cyborgs and transhumans (as Musk’s longstanding allusions have done).

Exploiting a well-known advertising technique, Musk’s BCI news was presented with a claim such as ‘the first human being to receive a Neuralink implant’. This, however, does not mean that the the patient was the first ever and that, therefore, we are witnessing a breakthrough.

A study published by Science and Engineering Ethics shows that the first time a BCI was first tested on humans in 2019, and a spin-off from the Italian Institute of Technology has built a chip that is as good as – if not better than – Neuralink; and other US start-ups are exploring the feasibility of BCIs. More than a revolution, then, we are witnessing a new gold rush that makes it look the one for AI, already hampered by ideological and political contrasts, like a Sunday casual walk in the woods looking for mushrooms.

By contrast, it went almost unnoticed, outside experts’ inner circles, another really important news. More or less at the same time as Neuralink’s announcement, last February 13 the Japan’s PorMedTec, a Meiji University’s start-up, announced that it had created three genetically modified pigs whose internal organs are suitable for human transplantation. Again, it is the ‘if’ not the ‘what’ that matters.

The possibility of duplicating biological organs, whether by cloning or bioprinting, has always been considered an essential alternative to overcome the shortage of organs for transplantation. Like BCIs, then, the medical applications of these technologies are significant and necessary.

Having taken another step towards the rebuilding of the connections between the brain and the body (or external objects such as prostheses) and transplanting genetically engineered organs is a big good news for researchers and, even if not in the short term, for patients affected by degenerative diseases or other problems. At the same time, though, concerns have been raised about the impact of the direct manipulation of the brain based on the brain’s manipulation through externally controlled software, and on the ethics of creating living (but not necessarily sentient) beings to harvest organs.

With a disheartening compulsion to repeat, the high-level regulatory approach to these issues is once again based on bureaucracy and rigidity, in the name of the omnipresent ‘ethical and responsible use’ of technology, on the one hand, and on the acceptance (or not openly denial) that this research could also be applied in non-medical fields – to cure people, in other words.

To be clear, we are talking about the possibility of implanting BCIs and artificial bio-organs into healthy subjects, not to cure them, but to ‘enhance’ them or, as in the case of BCIs, for entertainment through video games or other interactions with digital devices.

The ongoing discussion

The first theme is the now classic transhumanism, i.e. the current of thought originated in England and that theorises the right to enhance the body by resorting to technology and that has for some time now been intersecting strictly medical fields such as the development of robotic prostheses and augmentative medicine.


The second theme concerns the breaking of the last barrier between associating the external manifestations of human behaviour with the inner mechanisms that generate them, for purposes other than diagnosis and treatment. There have long been attempts to use neuroimaging techniques as a ‘lie detector’ in judicial processes, and critical analyses have long highlighted the limitations of this approach. This has not prevented the continuation of a parallel path, that of collecting the brain’s electrical signals in order to decode them and associate them with physical and mental states; a case that the Chilean Supreme Court dealt with – although in a questionable manner – in August 2023 with a ruling on the use of data collected by an electroencephalograph ‘for recreational use’.

While the public debate focuses on the ‘usual’ topics (ethics, privacy, responsible use, etc.), two issues that should be analysed before the others are neglected: the admissibility of a non-medical use of these technologies, and the choice of making them available to all or only to those who – individual or sovereign state – can afford them.

Allowing non-medical – i.e. non-curative – use of Bci and genetic engineering is a political choice that presupposes a model of society based on the definitive takeover of power by Big Tech and the geopolitical use of technological superiority in these areas. These companies will be able to intervene directly on the bodies and minds of individuals, instead of having to use obsolete profiling tools that do not allow real-time collection, and at the same time, they will govern these technologies in defiance of any public control.

The augmented reality viewers that are beginning to appear on the market are precursors of what could happen with the ‘entertainment’ use of BCIs. Today, reality is augmented by what some software house has decided to make the user perceive through the projection of images on the optic nerve. In some time – and this is the declared intention of those who intend to use these technologies ‘for entertaining purposes’ – this will be able to happen by directly sending signals to the brain, crossing the threshold of rational perception. Faced with such a prospect, there are no ‘codes of conduct’, ‘guidelines for responsible use’ or any other ‘guideline document’ that hold: the non-medical use of these technologies should simply be banned.

This choice, let us move to the subject of genetic engineering, has already been made in relation to human cloning: there are technically no insurmountable obstacles to cloning the physical component of an individual but, quite simply and quite clearly, the Oviedo Convention prohibits this practice. Therefore, there are no obstacles to prohibit even the use of Bci and, in general, of systems that interact directly with the brain or its electrical activity for purposes other than strictly curative ones, as well as transhumanist extremes that call for technological implants but also organic transplants. What is at stake, rather than the bizarre idea of ‘mental privacy’ or speciesism, is that of discrimination based on private wealth and the role of public powers.

In a state where Bci and genetic engineering are firmly in the hands of the private sector, only the private sector decides who can afford them. In an international dimension where one state has control of these technologies, only that state decides which others can be allowed to use them. We may not use the term eugenics, but at the end of the day this is what it is all about, and it is hard not to be reminded of what Aldous Huxley envisioned in Brave New World, with the aggravating circumstance that, in this case, discrimination would leave no hope for those who are ‘outside’ the boundaries, be they those of the bank account, or of their own (not technologically autonomous enough) state.

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