Healing the lame, bringing sight to the blind? Elon Musk's ambitions for Neuralink raise 'deep, serious' questions (part 1)
Did we think about Elon Musk more in 2022 than we did a year ago?
That thought might seem inconceivable, considering that just 12 months after he was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2021, Musk has become even more of a global presence.
Now that doesn’t mean life has been perfect for the world’s richest man: while he’s recently dominated headlines for his turbulent Twitter takeover, his other ventures have not gone unscathed.
While still the darling of the EV industry, Tesla has lost nearly half its market value since Musk first made his bid for Twitter, potentially threatening his status as the wealthiest man on Earth; SpaceX remains on course to shatter Musk’s goal of 60 launches in 2022, even as some SpaceX employees accuse Musk of violating labor laws; Starlink is well on its way to becoming the world's largest satellite-based consumer internet provider amid mounting frustration from customers; and Musk’s tunneling venture, The Boring Company is reportedly losing engineers and staff despite making progress toward building underground transport systems in several U.S. cities.
But despite that resume, it’s Neuralink, Musk’s medical device company, that has perhaps aroused the greatest interest — and suspicion — from both Christian and secular ethicists alike.
In 2019, Neuralink used "sewing machine-like technology ... to drill small holes into brains and insert super-slender electrodes called threads, steering clear of blood vessels as they go."
Neuralink was reportedly designing its electrodes to not only "read" from neural activity but "write" signals into the brain, amid scientists stating goals of restoring senses like touch or vision.
At that time, Musk said that the technology was placed inside a monkey's brain and that the animal was able to control a computer through its thoughts. He aspired to have it implanted in a human being by the end of 2019.
That goal was ultimately revised earlier this month, when Musk announced he expects Neuralink to successfully develop a wireless brain chip and begin human clinical trials on such a device by mid-2023.
It marked the latest timeline revision for Musk, who has said the brain interfaces could enable disabled users to move and communicate, while also restoring vision — evoking almost biblical imagery of Jesus healing the lame and bringing sight to the blind.
While some Christian neurologists have spoken out on ethical questions raised by implanting devices into the human brain, Musk has said the reason he created the company in the first place was as a “risk mitigation for digital super-intelligence.”
“The reason I created Neuralink long-term as a risk mitigation for digital super-intelligence, in that if we are able to effectively achieve symbiosis with digital intelligence, then…the collective human will is better able to steer things in the direction that we’d like, or even with benign AI, at least go along for the ride,” he told The Babylon Bee in an interview last year.
“We’re already at this point partially a cyborg … in that our phones and computers and applications are a digital extension of ourselves at this point.”
Among other goals, Musk said he’s confident Neuralink will ultimately allow paraplegic or even tetraplegic to operate a phone “faster than someone who has … working hands.”
While undeniable lofty goals can hardly be described as nefarious, some have speculated about whether Musk has an ultimate agenda, one that perhaps stems from what at least one Christian thinker has described as a worldview that veers toward “atheistic transhumanism.”
But what exactly does that mean?
The Rev. Christopher Benek, a Presbyterian pastor in South Florida and the founding chair of the Christian Transhumanist Association, believes the transhumanism movement — which he describes as a “complex web of philosophies, theologies and practical technological developments” — will ultimately become an “inevitable part of human reality.”
Benek’s personal aspiration for humanity is to “enact a Christian transhumanism that merges technological development with the teachings of Christ.
“The question is: to which transhumanist worldview will the bulk of humanity adhere?” Benek told The Christian Post.
For Benek, the transhumanism movement based on biblical theology shouldn’t pose any conflict.
“Most Christians should be fine with the proposed Neuralink developments as healing is at the core of the Christian tradition,” he said.
That sentiment was echoed by Seth Dillon, CEO of satire news site The Babylon Bee, who told CP he sees great promise in Neuralink’s potential commercial applications.
"The prospect of being able to restore the ability to walk and move to someone who's dealing with paralysis is unbelievably amazing,” said Dillon. “That would be a huge, huge achievement, and it would change a lot of people's lives."
And as for the whole “microchip in the brain” thing?
"We've already let technology dominate our lives so much, I think a lot of people are rightfully very wary of having it be integrated with our bodies,” Dillon said.
As Neuralink has conducted animal testing and seeks approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin clinical trials in humans, Musk has said he wants to be “extremely careful and certain that it will work well before putting a device into a human.
But assuming that development is a foregone conclusion, does that mean alarm bells should be going off in the Church when it comes to Neuralink and other similar technology?
Todd Hampson, co-host of the "Prophecy Pros Podcast," doesn’t think so.
“Guys like Musk are visionaries and often make grand claims. From a leadership perspective, a grand vision can push people to aim higher than they would have otherwise,” Hampson told CP.
“Thinking big is not wrong. Thinking big apart from the recognition of God is,” he added, pointing to Nimrod and the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 as an example of going beyond the bounds that God has established.
“That never ends well,” said Hampson.
Even if Neuralink and other technology can cure blindness and other previously incurable conditions, Hampson said the greater danger is abusing the technology for political or economic gain, which potentially opens the door to digital totalitarianism.
“The more dangerous applications of something like a brain chip is the possibility of using it to control the way people think,” he said.
Hampson said intellectual leaders like Yuval Harari and Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, are on the record stating they want to control minds with brain chips and other implantable applications.
“Harari has even stated that they want to correct how people think, and that the resurrection of Christ is ‘fake news,’” he said, referring to a 2018 interview at Google in which the author and futurist tried to explain how a Jewish rabbi might dismiss Christian beliefs when promoting their own faith.
“Those are the applications I'm more concerned about,” said Hampson. “Technology is neutral for the most part ... but if it is in the wrong hands, that's when things get scary.”
Musk did not respond to a request for comment from CP for this piece.
And while he didn’t go into the deeper ethical issues raised by Neuralink in his interview with the Bee, Dillon said such considerations are “really deep and serious questions.”
"Can things be imposed on you? Can restrictions be applied to you?” he said. "I don't know where [Musk is] coming from on that or what his end goals are.
"But to the extent that it's used for things like restoring the ability to walk or to see, or reconnecting broken nervous systems, that's pretty awesome stuff."
Ian M. Giatti is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: email@example.com.