Second Opinion: Why we should worry about Big Tech’s investment in a new brain technology

This July scientists reported using a neural implant in a man’s brain to restore his ability to communicate. The man, known as Pancho, has been partially paralyzed and unable to produce intelligible speech since suffering a severe stroke in 2003.

The new technology records Pancho’s brain activity with an array of electrodes, analyzes the activity to detect the words he is trying to say and then translates those intentions into written words that can be displayed on a computer screen. It is the latest advance in the exploding field of brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs. Similar systems have made headlines

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Is your brain a computer?

But perhaps what brains and computers do is fundamentally the same, even if the architecture is different. “What the brain seems to be doing is quite aptly described as information processing,” says Megan Peters, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, Irvine. “The brain takes spikes [brief bursts of activity that last about a tenth of a second] and sound waves and photons and converts it into neural activity—and that neural activity represents information.”

Richards, who agrees with Cobb that brains work very differently from today’s digital computers, nonetheless believes the brain is, in fact, a computer. “A

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