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The Future of Our Brains

An Inside Look at Tech Companies That Are Finding New Ways to Explore the Human Brain


Technological advancement and development have allowed us to understand our bodies and the way we work more than ever before. Innovations in both science and technology have led us to cure most diseases that were present on earth for centuries. Recent companies like Kernel and Neuralink develop technologies to understand and treat neurological diseases and with the information gathered, they hope to create applications and implants to enhance the brain. Research and technologies to cure brain disorders are a must and would have a huge positive impact in our world, but looking past that to create enhancement and applications for the brain would be changing the authenticity of what a being human is and taking life to another level that we’ve never even dreamed of. Progress in neuroscience has cured and helped many suffering from disorders, yet there is still a lot more research and technologies to develop to fully understand the brain, and wanting to enhance it with applications and implants is a lot more dangerous than we might expect.

Neuroscience has advanced quite a bit in the last 50 years and has helped many victims of neurological diseases and scientists to understand better what is happening in their brain and nervous system. We’ve been able to treat diseases such as Parkinson’s, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and brain tumors better than any other decade before. We may not have the cure for all of these, but progression in understanding them will only lead to newer and better treatments. For example, earlier this year, a team led by the Massachusetts General Hospital has discovered that a combination of two chemotherapy drugs (hydroxyurea and temozolomide) have proven effective in all cellular and animal models tested with brain tumor cells. This might not be a major breakthrough, but it is progress that allows us to understand further our complex bodies and minds. Even researchers from the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital of McGill University have supported and proven the theory that PD (Parkinson’s Disease) is correlated to brain connectivity. This research now sets the barrier and may guide new developments and different ways of approaching a case of PD. Then we look at companies like Kernel, who have invested over 100$ million in research for neurological diseases and are currently studying people with epilepsy. Some epilepsy patients have electrical implants in their brains to treat and help their seizures, which has proven successful. Kernel has been studying the implants to record brain activity and to tell us more about how the memory works. So with one treatment (in this case electrical implants in epilepsy patients), we are looking to study memory to hopefully discover a new and more effective treatment. Progress in this field can never stop because there is still so much we need to learn. Discovering one thing opens the door to discovering something else.

Even though progress never stops, we are a long road ahead from completely understanding everything there is to know about our brains and our nervous system, and neurological diseases seem to be more present than ever. The McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT and the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that, by 2050, around 15 million Americans will have the disease with a case of it appearing every 33 seconds. The goal of all researchers is to have a major discovery by then and never let it get to this point. An article from the University of Qatar says that there has not been a great revolution in this field yet, and they consider neuroscience as still being young. This means that there is so much more for us to learn and discover, and this revolution that they speak of is what Kernel and Neuralink are after. Neuralink is a relatively newer company but Kernel has already purchased neurotechnology assets from Cambridge and KRS (Kendall Research Systems), which is an interface to capture and record neural data. We see that there is still much more work to do, but these companies are getting right down to it. They have teams from different universities as well as different softwares and technologies to help them get further information and lots of money to invest in these developments. What Kernel is doing at the moment is very beneficial for our knowledge and understanding of neurological diseases, but once they’ve found the breakthrough, and a revolution has been made, it’s then that the company’s plans change and stray off.

Kernel’s future plans of creating applications towards cognitive enhancement of the brain may be more threatening to humans than we think. They are trying to hack the brain, to decode it and understand everything about it in order to create implants that will expand our minds knowledge, creativity and way of thinking. The human mind is amazing in its way to expand, to learn, to think in split seconds, and human intelligence is what defines us as humans and our relationship with more or less everything on our planet. Kernel and Neuralink’s end goal is to combine our natural human intelligence with artificial intelligence. In sci-fi movies we see robots and artificial intelligence taking over humans, but what if the humans, with the help of these implants, became robots or cyborg-type creatures. Now that’s a long stretch, but by implanting these in our brains and having them decide for us, or make us use more of our brain in any situation, we could be in a lot of danger. We’re born with the most powerful tool we know, our brains. It allows to learn at a very young age naturally and keep learning for the rest of our lives. Since it's capable of so many things already, altering the brain may lead to new consequences and possibly new diseases. Implants may also cause deep brain stimulations, which can have some behavioral side effects which may be temporary but that is still a problem in the development of the implant. More consequences of neural implants are that they can be hacked, misused, or even not designed properly. There was also a case in Slovenia where a sixty-six-year-old woman’s brain implant (she had an implant for her therapy of Parkinson’s disease) was shut off due to thunderstorms. The storm had shut off the implant and the woman hadn’t noticed anything for over an hour since the implant wasn’t plugged in. That situation could’ve been a lot worse had her implant been plugged in. It just goes to show that many unthought-of consequences could be at stake by introducing these highly sophisticated brain implants.

To conclude, research and development to cure neurological diseases by companies like Kernel and Neuralink would be a major breakthrough, but creating implants and artificially enhancing the brain would mean changing what humans are and have been through all of history. Discovering ways to treat and cure brain disorders would be great progress in our world, yet there is still so much to learn and understand on this topic and particular field, and, by creating applications to enhance our brain, we would open the doors to more problems and consequences than we expected.

Sources:

  1. “Combination chemotherapy may significantly improve treatment for deadly brain tumour.” Massachusetts General Hospital, January 2018, https://www.massgeneral.org/News/pressrelease.aspx?id=2202
  2. Morris, David. “A 66-Year-Old Woman's Brain Implant Was Shut Off By a Lightning Strike.” Fortune, May 6,2018, http://fortune.com/2018/05/06/brain-implants-lighting-danger/
  3. Johnson, Bryan. “The Combination of human and artificial intelligence will define humanity’s future.” TechCrunch, Oct 12, 2016, https://techcrunch.com/2016/10/12/the-combination-of-human-and-artificial-intelligence-will-define-humanitys-future/
  4. “Brain Disorders: By the Numbers.” McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, 2018, https://mcgovern.mit.edu/brain-disorders/by-the-numbers
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