Neural Implants: the Future of Healthcare?

Brain chips, or more scientifically, Neural Implants have dominated the news lately for their human test trials picking up speed. With this revolutionary technology, new questions about their ethical guidelines and potential implications have been raised. This brief examines the history of neural technology and the future they might take as a new form of healthcare.

At YIP, nuanced policy briefs emerge from the collaboration of six diverse, nonpartisan students.

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Executive summary

Neural implants or “brain chips” have grown controversial in recent news. This seemingly foreign concept brings a lot of  precedent-setting questions about the future of this groundbreaking technology. Our brief seeks to dive into the complexities of the technology and provide insight into tackling the intricacies.  


Human-implanted brain chips are advanced neuro-technological devices that interface directly with the brain, enabling bidirectional communication and control. These chips hold potential for medical applications such as treating neurological disorders and restoring lost sensory functions. However, their benefits also raise ethical concerns regarding privacy, autonomy, safety, and more. 

As of recently, numerous companies have attempted to take on the feat of developing brain chips. With the potential for cognitive enhancement toward memory and learning, this revolutionary technology could support individuals with disabilities to regain lost functionalities to great effect. 

Yet, these additional benefits come at the cost of increased technological intervention into life. With common issues of data security, unauthorized access to neural information, and potential misuse for surveillance also applicable, the safety of users comes into question.


Jacques Vidal, in the 1970s, worked at the Brain Research Institute at UCLA and introduced the concept of a brain-computer interface. Since then, the idea of this technology has taken hold in both the public imagination and in research circles across the globe. From Hans Berger, a German psychiatrist credited as the creator of the EEG, which can read brainwaves, to Apostolos Georgopoulos, at Johns Hopkins in the 1980s, who published a famous paper describing how the activity of motor cortex cells correlated to the specific movement of a rhesus macaque mouse’s limbs. BCIs have thus far accomplished and have remarkably even surpassed several milestones, including in May 2021, when a quadriplegic was able to relay sentences through a computer under a Stanford University team, and in the same year when startup Synchron showed two people using their partially invasive BCI communicating via email and text with solely their thoughts. 

Recently, in the fall of 2022, company Neuralink hosted a live demonstration of a reused monkey typing without using its limbs — or, in other words, with only its brain. 

More recently, in February of 2024, Neuralink also successfully implanted its first BCI into a human being, with initial results confirming the successful detection of neuronal activity. Although BCIs are primarily being investigated for people with neuromuscular disorders, applications are far-ranging, such as the research of BCIs to restore the eyesight of individuals with acquired blindness. 

After Dr. William Harvey Dobelle implanted an electrode array into a patient’s visual cortex, restoring the sensation of seeing light in 1978, multiple retinal prostheses emerged by either stimulating the visual cortex like Dobelle, or by stimulating the optic nerve and thus further pushing the field of BCIs forward.

Policy Problem

With the  more extensive use of brain chips, also called neural implants or brain-computer interface (BCI, use), it raises several legal, moral, and ethical issues.  

One of the biggest challenges with any technology is privacy. The protection and use of brain data must be clearly defined. Determining intellectual property rights requires asserting ownership of the information and ideas produced by the brain. Accountability for unacceptable or outrageous behavior is critical when neural implants affect human behavior. A neurological or cognitive profile also has a huge potential to lead to discrimination. Using this technology with clear guidelines and oversight for its development and use would be safe. Even assuming that many legal questions are addressed, moral and ethical issues must be considered. Brain chips may violate people’s privacy by allowing access to a person’s thoughts and feelings. 

Implants may interfere with a person’s ability to make independent decisions, thus losing their autonomy. Brain chips can change a person's sense of self and identity. Even if there is informed consent from the user, which is crucial, how can users fully understand the implications of having an implant, and how it behaves over a more extended period? 

Many unknown safety issues relate to long-term effects on brain function and other possible side effects. Access and benefits may be unequally distributed, increasing social inequality. Blurring the line between man and machine raises many ethical questions.

Solving these problems requires a multidisciplinary approach involving neuroscience, ethics, law, and society experts. ⁤⁤Openness, public participation, and continuous discussions are essential to ensure an idea's responsible development and use.

Policy Options

With all these benefits and also lasting problems, legislative and regulatory actions have been strongly encouraged on all levels.

According to warnings from a team of researchers led by Columbia University neuroscientist Rafael Yuste and University of Washington bioethicist Sara Goering, they join over two dozen other esteemed scientists in an essay,  calling for ethical guidelines in computer hardware or software when testing human capabilities enhancements before further systemic issues. These include the loss of individual privacy, identity, autonomy, social inequalities gap, and potential hacker exploitations of concern. 

Potential policy solutions for privacy include individuals being given the choice to consent to usage of their brain chips being accessed, such as organ donors with their information. Others include personal data and commercial use to be heavily regulated on all governmental levels. To address autonomy and identity with brain chips, these authors suggested education legislation about possible known implications of brain chips when under control and what will be outlawed. Lastly, the essayists of these reports wanted to address the concern of super-human intelligence with these brain enhancements causing domination over others. To prevent such inequities, they suggested particular commissions on technology regulations to investigate what can and cannot be done.

Already, there is much regulation by the FDA just within the human trials and testing of such brain implants. 

As demonstrated in Neuralink, which claims the potential of having the paralyzed walk, the blind see, and even people transforming into cyborgs, the company was previously struggling even to get clinical trial approval. Their application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was rejected due to lack of information from the company on the potential dangers of implant wires towards the human brain of test subjects. This clearly shows the current regulations  being put into work to prevent any harm just in the clinical stages. Though they have since secured their first clinical trial in the past year. which indicates adaptation to meet safety guidelines, this high profile scenario has caused the UN to take notice and is currently developing its ethical framework towards neurotechnology. 

Though seen as positive by Gabriela Ramos, assistant director-general for social and human sciences at UNESCO who cited promises towards helping those who have Alzheimer's, depression, and eating disorders, she also raises concerns about the perils if not regulated to consider human rights. 

Specifically, she is fixated on the human brain and its data that may contain valuable information on such individuals' physiology, health, and mental statuses. Considering the sought-after commodity of digital data, she thinks about the future market towards brain information. Ramos also worries that these new appliances can “deepen social inequalities and open new ways to exploit and manipulate people, affecting social cohesion and democratic processes.

UNESCO plans to work with member countries and other UN agencies to create nanotechnology guardrails before it is too late. Although this is very preliminary, they strongly consider the human rights aspects, freedom of thought and privacy as they propose a "common ethical framework at the international level."

Next Steps

A 2021 Pew Research Center survey shows Americans are primarily unfavorable and cautious regarding computer chip brain implants. Most Americans (56%) said it would be detrimental for society to employ brain chips widely to improve cognitive performance. Just 13% of respondents thought it would be a good idea, while 31% weren't sure. Of those who answered yes, 20% indicated they would like a chip implant, while the vast majority (78%) stated they would not

The successful implantation of these brain chips in a human means that we are closer to making these chips available to the public than we think. As successful trials continue, statistics regarding opinions on brain chips and their functions may be more favorable toward them in the future. 

Neuralink's more famous success story has ignited an interest in how brain chips can improve cognitive performance amongst the public and the technological and scientific community.

Previously, Neuralink's first test subjects were animals. The organization faced government investigations and is said to be accountable for at least 1,500 animal fatalities. Despite these challenges, Neuralink has successfully implanted a brain chip in their first human subject. 

Then, the company's first human implant experiment was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by last year, marking a significant step toward its goal of assisting patients in overcoming paralysis and various neurological diseases. It is reported that the 29-year-old quadriplegic who received this chip has been able to complete actions such as moving his fingers, playing online chess, and moving his computer mouse. 

However, last late November, four lawmakers asked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether Musk had misled investors about the safety of its technology. Musk has since then assured that no living things were harmed thus far in the trials of the brain chips. 

Those who face neurological conditions or paralysis can look forward to any updates on brain chips and their implantation process as Neuralink continues its trials. 

It is estimated that an implant will cost around 10,500 dollars when released to the public, which will not be for about a decade.


While the development of brain chips has enabled individuals with paralysis to regain control over physical functions, and could lead to potential cognitive enhancements, this technology comprises a complex landscape where these breakthroughs conflict with concerns about privacy, autonomy and the essence of human identity. With data as one of the most valuable commodities today, the protection of brain data and safeguarding of intellectual property generated by thoughts require immediate policy solutions.  When the news about the first successful implant of a computer chip by Neuralink was released, there were mixed feelings from the American public about what this means for the future of public technology. Neuralink first tested the technology on animals, facing investigation from the US Securities and Exchange Commission about the safety of their technology. The public’s cautious stance underscores the societal need to proceed with appropriate regulations as the technology prepares for launch in the next decade. Creating a policy solution calls for a collaborative approach that includes ethicists, legal experts, technologists and the public to shape the future of neurotechnology. The commitment to developing technology that enhances society’s well-being and respects individual autonomy should be remembered when making critical decisions that decide the future of brain chips.


The Institute for Youth in Policy wishes to acknowledge Michelle Liou, [Policy Director], Nolan Ezzet and other contributors for developing and maintaining the Policy Department within the Institute.


  1. “Experts Call for Ethics Rules to Protect Privacy, Free Will as Brain Implants and AI Merge.” n.d. Columbia News. Accessed March 16, 2024.
  1. LEVY, RACHAEL, and MARISA TAYLOR. 2023. “U.S. regulators rejected Elon Musk's bid to test brain chips in humans.” Reuters.
  1. “UN Warns Against Implanting Unregulated AI Chips in Your Brain.” 2023. Business Insider.
  2. n.d. Synchron | The Brain Unlocked. Accessed March 22, 2024.
  3. n.d. Wikipedia. Accessed March 22, 2024.
  4. “Cerebral connections: UCLA engineers tap into rich legacy of brain-computer interface technology.” n.d. UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. Accessed March 22, 2024.
  5. Guarino, Ben. 2024. “Elon Musk's Neuralink Has Implanted Its First Chip in a Human Brain. What's Next?” Scientific American.
  7. “Computer chips in human brains: How Americans view the technology amid recent advances.” 2024. Pew Research Center. February 1, 2024. 
  9. “Elon Musk's Neuralink implants brain chip in first human.” 2024. Reuters. January 30, 2024. 
  11. Ólafsson, Björn. “In Wake of Animal Testing Scandals, Elon Musk’s Neuralink Nabs FDA Approval.” Sentient, May 30, 2023.

Christine Li

Policy Analyst

Christine is a social policy writer for YIP. Raised in Brooklyn, New York, she loves going on walks and watching late night television shows.

Spencer Samet

Policy Analyst

Spencer Samet is a student at Windward School in Los Angeles California. He is passionate about current events and plans to pursue political science. Spencer works as a technology policy CO-Lead for YIP and is an active member of his highschool’s debate team.

Natalie Gelman

Policy Analyst

Tanya Mahesh

Fall 2023 Fellow

Tanya Mahesh is a High School Student from Pearland, Texas and with a keen interest in the intersection of business, technology and policy.

Vaishnavi Moturi

Policy Analyst

Vaishnavi Moturi is a student at Centennial High School and a technology policy analyst at the Institute for Youth in Policy. She is the founder and director of Hello CitizenZ, where she seeks to help create a generation of global citizens while developing technologies that improve public health systems and society’s collective health.

Suchir Paruchuri

Policy Analyst

Lyla Renwick-Archibold