• Otávio Santiago

Without a brain chip, you become a second-class human being

Interview with , July 22, 2021. English translation.

In the future, a healthy person could have the status that a disabled person has today, if he or she does not have a brain chip, says Viennese biotechnologist Markus Schmidt. In the international research project "FutureBody," several scientists including Schmidt are looking at the effects of neurotechnology on society. In this interview, Markus Schmidt explains why we humans will continue to merge with technology and where the opportunities and risks of neurotechnology lie.

Mr. Schmidt, you are dealing with the future of the human body. In 100 years, will we look back at the year 2021 and ask ourselves: How could we live like this?

I think so. We can clearly see that technological progress and social changes have become faster and faster over the years. We were hunter-gatherers for two million years. Then 10,000 years ago came agriculture. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the industrial revolution took place, and by the 1970s, information technology had already arrived. And since then, a lot has happened again. Our lives and technological advances will continue to accelerate in the future. This means that in 100 years, 2021 will be further away than 1921 is for us today.

In your "Future Body" research project, you and your team focus primarily on neurotechnology. What exactly is that about?

We cooperate in the project with two partners in Germany and one in Canada, and we look at neurotechnology from different angles: the philosophical, the technical, but also the artistic. Neurotechnology encompasses various technologies and processes that interact directly with our nervous system, for instance via brain-computer interfaces. This includes examples like the "Internet of Living Things," with which the brain could be connected to the Internet, or like implants in the body, through which new senses can supposedly be gained.

Elon Musk also unveiled a brain chip last year to connect brains to computers.

Exactly, with Musk's brain chips, a thousand electrodes are placed in the brain on a very small area. This density of electrodes in the brain was unprecedented and gives hope for a higher "neurological resolution".

Are other neurotechnologies already in use today?

Yes, a common non-invasive procedure is, for example, the electroencephalogram (EEG). This involves placing a type of cap with sewn-in electrodes on the head, from which signals are sent to an amplifier via cables. There is a company in Austria that manufactures these systems specifically for locked-in patients who are conscious but cannot lift their arm or speak. With the help of the EEG, they can give answers such as “yes” or “no” by thought. Still, there are also already cochlear implants for the deaf that are directly connected to the inner ear.

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