June 23, 2024

What is the benefit of a chip in the brain? -News

Brain chips are now more common than expected: pacemakers are being implanted in patients with epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. Now tech companies are planning a chip for healthy people. This may make our lives more enjoyable, but it may also pose a data protection risk. Gwendolyn Schoenfeld, science editor at SRF, assesses how realistic a future with a brain chip for everyone is.

Gwendolyn Schoenfeld

Science editor and neurobiologist


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Gwendolyn Schoenfeld received her PhD in Neurobiology. Her special interest is the impact of science and technology on society. Gwendolyn currently works at the knowledge magazine “Nano”.

What are the benefits of a chip in the brain?

Technology enthusiasts dream of using a brain chip to control technical devices using their brains: driving a car without a steering wheel or making phone calls without plugging a mobile phone into their ear. The future brain chip could also control devices unconsciously. When it detects we are frozen, it automatically turns on the heating. Two people’s chips can also communicate with each other. It would be possible to make brain-to-brain telephone communications, or our colleague could broadcast his vacation directly into our heads. But that is the distant future. It is likely that we will use brain chips to improve our sleep or to be able to focus for longer.

A young man with dark, curly hair in casual clothes holds a football and a cable net hanging on his head.

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It can also be performed non-surgically: However, non-surgical brain slices using hair bands are less accurate. Used by Liverpool FC’s Trent Alexander-Arnold in training (May 25, 2022).

Images by imago/Shutterstock/Paul Greenwood

How does a brain chip work?

The brain chip allows information to be exchanged between the brain and electronics because they both use electrical impulses. A computer chip is inserted directly into the brain during the procedure. There are electrodes on the chip that connect to neurons. This is how the brain’s electronic signals are measured. The chip translates it into machine language using artificial intelligence and sends the translation from the head via wireless transmission. Theoretically, information exchange is also possible in the opposite direction: in the future, the chip could transmit information from the outside world to the brain.

Brain chips with and without surgery


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Implanted brain chips

Medically speaking, implanted brain chips are extremely dangerous. During brain surgery, the skull must be opened. This can lead to brain injuries, infections, infections, and subsequent scarring. Elon Musk’s brain chip company Neuralink inserted its first brain chip into a hemiplegic patient in January 2024. At first everything went well. In May, some of the wires on the chip in the patient’s brain became disconnected. Through software modifications, the chip continues to function and be safe. But loose wires remain in the brain.

Non-invasive brain chips

There is also the possibility of using a brain chip without having to undergo surgery. Non-surgical “brain chips” can be worn on the head like a headband and can be put on and taken off. The chip in the headband also uses electrodes to measure electrical brain activity, but through the top of the skull. Since the signals must first travel through the bone, they become less powerful and less accurate. Some technology enthusiasts are already using such portable chips to measure their concentration levels while working or playing computer games.

Can a brain chip read my thoughts?

Yes, but he’s not very good at it. Brain chips must first learn to interpret our thoughts. In one study, researchers measured the brain activity of sleeping people. They could read from the data that the person dreamed of an apple, for example, but they couldn’t figure out what happened to it. In theory, the chip could also be used from the outside to manipulate us: one could cause unwanted movements. For example, forming a fist creates a fairly simple signal in the brain that can be easily imitated by a computer chip. Some emotions such as joy or fear can also be elicited by a brain chip.

Brain data privacy


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Future risk: Possibility of brain chips being hacked. Then the hacker gets access to our thoughts. Experts estimate that the brain chip needs to be protected by viral software, just like a laptop or cell phone.

There are also fears that technology companies such as Google or Meta can access our brain data. These companies are leading the development of brain chips. It is precisely these companies that actually collect our user data on the Internet and social media.

What useful information can companies extract from our minds? What will they use our brain data for? Research and policy experts are currently working to develop a legal framework to protect brain data. By the beginning of 2025, UNESCO wants to develop a guide for governments on how countries can protect their citizens’ brain data.

Will we all have a brain chip in the future?

It is estimated that within 20 years, many people – but not all – will regularly measure their brain activity with a microchip. We’ll probably use headband-style wearable brain chips to track our concentration levels or moods throughout the day. At night we control and improve our sleep. Thus, brain chips will become a lifestyle product, much like today’s smartwatches. In the future, implanted brain chips will only be used in medicine. ‘Deep brain stimulation’ involves sending electrical signals to the brains of Parkinson’s patients to help them walk better. In patients with epilepsy, a brain chip monitors brain activity and protects against an impending seizure.

SRF section “What if?”


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In the new multimedia section “What if?” The SRF wants to shed light on future scenarios. Each of us addresses a social topic and assumes a radical or surprising development in a thought experiment. This approach aims to help better anticipate future developments. The SRF accompanies the topic in question online, on radio and on television for almost 24 hours. SRF invites viewers, listeners and users to actively participate in the discussion.

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