Often used in an interchangeable manner with the term brain implant, a neural implant is a technological creation that is supposed to be connected to a biological brain. Due to this, neural implants can be considered a related concept to brain-computer interfaces, though the latter is much more expansive in nature because it encompasses technologies that need no implantation.
What Could Neural Implants Be Used For?
Theoretically, neural implants could be put to a wide range of uses. For instance, one of the biggest sources of interest in neural implants comes from people who are fascinated by its potential to make up for normal capabilities that have either been lost or never existed in a particular brain in the first place. One excellent example would be a neutral implant that can let the blind see by connecting with some kind of camera mounted on an external frame. Another excellent example would be a neurostimulator that can module neural activity for the purpose of minimizing the symptoms of harmful neurological conditions such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. Considering the sheer number of people who are suffering because of these issues, it seems safe to say that the popular introduction of these neural implants could do a great deal of good in the real world.
Of course, if neural implants can be used to make up for either lost or never-existing capabilities, it stands to reason that neural implants can be used to provide new capabilities as well as bolster existing capabilities. For instance, there is enormous interest in brain-computer interfaces that can be used to control external tools and other devices, which encompasses both neural implants and their no-implantation-needed counterparts. However, what is particularly exciting is the idea of installing upgrades to natural human capabilities, which is something that both supporters and detractors of human augmentation have been eyeing for decades and decades by this point in time.
On top of this, it should be mentioned that there are other potential uses for neural implants in creatures besides humans. In particular, it is interesting to note that there is military interest in neural implants that can be used to take control of insects as well as other kinds of animals. Essentially, the idea is that these cyborgs can be used to survey locations that would otherwise be inaccessible to their controllers. Moreover, the idea is that these cyborgs can provide better information than otherwise possible through the exploitation of their natural senses, whether that means using insects to pick up on toxic chemicals or using sharks to pick up on the presence of hostile vessels.
Summed up, neural implants have many potential issues, which in turn, means that there are many parties out there that are interested in them. As such, it should come as no surprise to learn that there are enormous amounts of resources being poured into neural implants, though it remains to be seen what will come of them.
How Close Are Neural Implants to Seeing Widespread Use in the Real World?
Currently, there are already neural implants that are seeing use. For example, the idea of letting blind people see by connecting their brains with an external camera is something that has been worked upon for decades and decades, though such projects still fall far short of the point of being able to provide interested individuals with perfect vision. Likewise, there are scientists who have created wireless-controlled cyborg beetles and moths, which are a step towards more ambitious projects in the form of controllable rats and pigeons.
However, there are still numerous issues that make it difficult to tell when neural implants will see widespread use. In fact, it wasn’t until very recently that our improved understanding of computers, as well as the human brain, has enabled scientists to make significant leaps in the capabilities of neural implants, meaning that there is still a long way to go until we can expect to see technological devices similar to those seen in speculative fiction. Moreover, it should be mentioned that neural implants are still very much affected by the issue of rejection, which is caused by the fact that the human body sees them as foreign bodies that cannot be permitted to remain in contact with sensitive tissues, according to Business Insider. As a result, the presence of neural implants results in the growth of scar tissue, which will eventually become so thick that the neural implants become incapable of communicating with the neurons that they are supposed to be communicating with. There are already various efforts that are underway to solve the issue of rejection as well as design neural implants that are more capable of working with the human brain without provoking a hostile response from the human body, but like a lot of things, there is still enormous room for further improvement.
With that said, while the widespread use of neural implants is still something situated in the future rather than something that is happening now, it seems pretty safe to say that it is something that will be happening at some point sooner or later. As such, there are already numerous people and other parties that have raised all sorts of questions about their use, which will presumably have to be addressed in order to ensure a smooth integration of such technological devices into modern societies.
For instance, if neural implants are indeed capable of boosting natural human capabilities, that could have serious implications for social inequality because of who will and will not have access to them. In turn, that raises the question of whether people will effectively be forced to get neural implants in order to keep up with other employees who have made affirmative choices out of their own free will. Finally, while the human brain is much more sophisticated than those of insects, a lot of the fundamentals remain the same. As such, considering the experiments that have been conducted regarding controllable cyborg organisms, it isn’t exactly difficult to come up with nightmare scenarios that will likely start showing up in the popular media of the not too distant future.