There’d have to be something wrong with your brain to sign up for a Neuralink trial

Has anybody read The Terminal Man by Michael Crichton? It’s about a man who gets a brain implant to correct his epilepsy, but then it starts triggering increasingly violent crimes. I strongly dislike everything Crichton ever wrote — he was a Luddite who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, while the press and the public fawn over his bad science — but for the first time, I feel like he might have been onto something.

Reportedly, Elon Musk has gotten FDA approval to stick chronic electrodes into people’s brains. Why you’d want anything associated with that incompetent boob permanently wired into your brain is a mystery.

The FDA acknowledged in a statement that the agency cleared Neuralink to use its brain implant and surgical robot for trials on patients but declined to provide more details.

Neuralink and Musk did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

The story has triggered my internal Michael Crichton and now I’m wondering what horror will result from this decision.

  • Patients will start murdering people ala The Terminal Man (or Musk’s self-driving software) as Neuralink misfires.
  • Neuralink will catch fire and burn down to the patient’s basicranium.
  • Neuralink will explode when it’s switched on, cratering the patient’s head.
  • Neuralink will attract Nazis who will fill the patient’s brain with bad ideas.
  • Neuralink will do nothing at all, but it will distract the patient from investing in better treatments.

My imagination fails. You’ll have to think of all the likely horrible consequences of getting a Neuralink implant.


  1. microraptor says

    Neuralink will cause patient to strongly desire a blue checkmark on their Twitter account.

  2. Matt G says

    Stop scaremongering, PZ. Their brains won’t explode until 4 minutes after the implant is switched on.

  3. Larry says

    You know you’re MAGA when you refuse to get vaccinated for covid-19 because your read something online that it includes mind-control chips but are more than willing to allow Elon Musk to implant electrodes into your brain.

  4. says

    I struggle to keep my brain on the rational, enlightenment track without any interference from any implant pushed by raving rightwing nutjob MuskOx. People who would subject themselves to this insanity are either gullible ‘tech will fix everything’ idiots or sheople desirous of being shorn of every shred of independent thought. We see innumerable and ever increasing reports of how the elongated muskrat keeps proving he is an arrogant imbecile with more money than brains. Don’t let him mess with yours.

  5. hemidactylus says

    Michael Crichton was involved in the TV series ER (somebody page Benton), which wasn’t too bad. Just about anyone who has starred in anything was at least a guest on that show.

    And The Andromeda Strain? I saw the movie but didn’t read the book.

  6. nomaduk says

    I don’t think Crichton was a luddite (and I think that word gets misused and abused a lot) so much as someone who has a lot of misgivings about the uses to which technology was and is being put, and made a living out of sounding an alarm — perhaps somewhat hyperbolically, but, to be honest, given where we are right now, I don’t think he was wrong.

    I tend to think Soylent Green was pretty damned prescient, too, even if we’re not eating each other just yet.

  7. says

    @8 nomaduk mentioned soylent green.
    I reply: I agree in that, while it seems far fetched in some ways, it was something that Edward G. Robinson wanted to participate in because he saw a lot of possible real dangers in the story based on ‘Make Room! Make Room!’ by Harry Harrison. (I see a tie-n to a particular political rtwingnutjob saying ‘both soylent green and corporations are people, my friend’)

  8. says

    I haven’t read much Crichton since, way back in my 20s, I read Jurassic Park and wanted to burn it for the bad science and scaremongering in it.

  9. says

    I read The Terminal Man when I was a teenager. I didn’t know much science then, so I was able to enjoy the book. (I have always been fascinated by failure.)
    I also remember, from around the same time, an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man which guest starred William Shatner as a man who got a bionic brain implant. That also misfired badly, resulting in some nice Shatner-style ranting before the final burnout.
    Of course that was just fiction, nothing to do with reality today.
    On the other hand, I sometimes suspect Elon Musk of being a fictional character.
    On the whole, then, no, I would not let anyone put wires in my brain, least of all Elon. Imagine if something were to go wrong–Elon would cook up some weird plan to fix it, probably involving some kind of Fantastic Voyage submarine that he would invent on the spot. Anyone who pointed out it wouldn’t work would get labelled a PEDO or somesuch, and one’s ensuing death would probably get a LOL tweet. Or a poop emoji, or maybe a “that’s what she said” joke.
    I would say that anyone who volunteers for this deserves whatever happens to them, but that might be a little harsh. Anyway, maybe we’ll get a movie out of it someday.

  10. says

    I suspect the main problem will be implants that suddenly stop working because the latest update was buggy.

  11. KG says

    Neuralink is specifically designed to enslave you to Elon Musk. Or at least, can anyone deny that if it could be so designed, it would be?

  12. billseymour says

    LykeX @12:

    I suspect the main problem will be implants that suddenly stop working because the latest update was buggy.

    Oh, dear!  Now I can’t un-think about downloading the latest attempt to foil hackers, which is routine for Windows and Firefox.  Maybe we’ll have something like Norton Utilities selling anti-virus software and ad blockers.

    Even without a Neuralink, the mind boggles.

  13. HidariMak says

    With proper experimentation, development, testing, and monitoring, cerebral implants could help create benefits for humankind that science fiction authors haven’t even thought up yet. And I’d say that the chances of Elon Musk having a part in that, would be less than the chances of Roseanne Barr becoming a world class pole vaulter.

  14. seversky says

    I enjoyed some of Crichton’s books and films like The Andromeda Strain. They’re a sort of pop hard SF, slick but superficial and they read like they’re intended for movie or TV adaptations.

    For me The Terminal Man was intriguing in the way it highlighted the distinction between disorders of the physical brain and psychological disorders which have no apparent physiological basis

    The patient suffers from epileptic seizures. His implant is intended to forestall incipient seizures by delivering small electric shocks to the affected region of his brain. The unanticipated consequence was that the patient found the sensation of the shocks pleasurable, so much so that his brain began generating seizures to get the pleasurable jolt from the implant.

    As I remember, what the researchers were unaware of was that the patient also suffered from a psychological disorder like paranoid schizophrenia. One manifestation was something like a dread of humans being taken over by machines, In other words, the computer controlled implant in his brain was his worst nightmare and sent him on his killing-spree.

    If Musk’s thinking about science and technology is as shallow as Crichton’s then I hope that there are researchers on Neuralink who will tell him what the real problems are (just before they get fired)

  15. Alan G. Humphrey says

    The worst scenario I can imagine is that the infection gets so bad that doctors resort to using maggots to clear it and your name becomes the new term for those sounds you just can’t get out of your mind.

  16. Alan G. Humphrey says

    I hope that infectious ear worm I gave you is too distracting…

  17. says

    As a minor homage to old-style SAT analogy problems:

    Crichton : credible science outside of 1960s medicine† :: physicists : biochemical genetics and gene expression

    The problem is not so much “lack of basic background and intellectual capability” (as it is for so many, many novelists!) as “unwillingness to do more than pop-science research with vocabulary-assimilation sufficient to wow the completely ignorant, while relying on some basic knowledge in another field that’s less related than anyone who actually knows what’s going on won’t laugh at.” The Andromeda Strain isn’t a great novel, but at least it’s relatively scientifically credible based on the knowledge of its time. The Terminal Man, WestWorld, Jurassic Park, etc. — not so much. It’s not that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”; it’s that “a little knowledge coupled to a lack of humility about how much one doesn’t know is a dangerous thing.”

    † Crichton was an MD who never practiced because he was getting bored at Harvard Med in the 60s and started writing novels.

  18. wzrd1 says

    Cool! Soon, we’ll have people able to move a compute cursor around and we’ll also end the Vietnam war!
    Assuming that their surgeons finally embrace that silly germ theory of disease and the test subjects stop dying of postoperative infections.
    Which is something else mastered back in the 1950’s…
    Who knows? We might even land men on the moon soon!

    Sorry, my mind drifted back 50 years…
    Whatever idiots are reporting this as a major advance that’s never been done before, sign them up for the first implants, that way something will be inside of their fucking skulls.

  19. wzrd1 says

    Oh, the most likely outcome is Musk’s labs maintain their postoperative infection rate, unrivaled since Joe Mengele lost his “clinic”, causing the patients brain to be completely consumed by pathogens and leaving them fit only to work under Musk at Twitter or go into politics. Or perhaps, with sufficient damage, go into journalism.

  20. says

    I remember reading The Terminal Man aloud to my grade-school class during lunch, one chapter a day. I did The Andromeda Strain too. Not sure how plausible Crichton’s scenario is given today’s knowledge; but AFAIR it doesn’t sound wildly implausible, at least as one possible way a very complex thing like brain-machine interfaces can go wrong.

    But this is Elon Musk we’re talking about — I don’t expect anything he does to work well enough or long enough to go as dramatically far wrong as any Chrichton-style scenario.

  21. steve oberski says

    I strongly dislike everything Crichton ever wrote

    I enjoyed his novel “Eaters of the Dead” – The story is about a 10th-century Muslim Arab who travels with a group of Vikings to their settlement and the meets the ‘mist-monsters’, or ‘wendol’, a tribe of vicious savages (suggested by the narrator to have been possibly relict Neanderthals).

    Illustrated by Ian Miller, jagged ink illustrations that set the mood.

    Anything else I’ve read by Michael Crichton is airport fodder.

  22. gijoel says

    You forgot: “Neuralink will cause crippling pain and infections. Some volunteers will die an agonizing death, the others will be worse off than when they didn’t have Neuralink.”

  23. says

    Ironically, I’m coming around on the thesis of Jurassic Park, if not anything else he ever did. (I think his last novel was a truly demented conspiracy screed about how global warming is fake.) Ian Malcolm was like “this level of control you’re attempting, it’s impossible” about running a zoo. Definitely feeling like that’s true about humanity itself. There is no way we can get past our animal nature, which has its natural end in extinction. Hoping to be proven wrong. Elon Mush ain’t helping.

  24. says

    My first thought was the movie Daywalkers, Sam Neill’s character saying, “It was never about a cure, it’s about repeat business.” Would “volunteers” have to sign a no removal contract and still have to pay monthly?

    My second was what sort of “doctors” would participate (i.e. the ethically challenge and less skilled) How many severe infections and deaths could happen?

    I can understand implants that give people abilities they may want (e.g. improved vision or hearing) because those are about giving people independence, but the Felon is only interested in creating dependence on his products.

  25. Bad Bart says

    I hated Jurassic Park the book, partly because the molecular biology was so bad. I can enjoy Jurassic Park the movie in part because the cartoon Mr DNA gives such a superficial explanation that there isn’t enough information for it to be right or wrong. That seems to be a pattern for Chrichton’s work.

  26. hemidactylus says

    I want to see the episode of ER where someone comes in with their Neuralink implantation gone way south.

    I guess ER was created by Crichton. Maybe the best thing he ever did IMO. I was OK with the original Jurassic Park movie but either it or I lost the plot after that.

    Weird thing about ER is thinking about the whole Chicago TV setting thing loosely connecting ER, Shameless, and The Bear via mutual stars.

  27. John Morales says

    Premise: Many people have something wrong with their brain.
    Proposition: “There’d have to be something wrong with your brain to sign up for a Neuralink trial”.
    Inference: At least some people will sign up.

  28. hemidactylus says

    And I was taking classes on human anatomy and physiology when I started watching ER, which gave me an odd synchronicity vibe at the time. I would hear them spouting technical jargon that coincided with what I was studying. I guess I was gullible because human anatomy and physiology is literally the subject matter of an emergency room physician. No spooky coincidence there.

    I imagine real ER physicians would laugh at how superficially glib the show was, but at the time it was a pretty intense show.

    As a matter of comparison I got really annoyed when an episode of CSI: Miami made a big deal about a suspect’s car having vegetable matter from a Brazilian pepper tree as if that was a unique enough thing in Florida to as evidence use in a case. My recent enough botany classes made a joke out of that superficial bullshit. Stopped taking that show seriously enough to watch it after that nonsense.

  29. wzrd1 says

    There are a few incorrect premises here.
    First, implants aren’t guaranteed scar tissue, rejection or infection, we’ve been using them for decades in limited applications. Cochlear implants, deep brain stimulation, vagus nerve stimulation and more have been in use for around 30 years. Not a suggestion of the suggested mayhem to the recipient. Musk’s implants, well, they’ve not worked out well with the experimental animals at all, can’t see technique magically improving now. I still suspect someone was bribed to approve that 1970 technology crap.

    As for Crichton, I was over him back in 1976 after reading Terminal Man and the implausible mayhem that ensued in the book. Multiple other works were equally drivel ridden and he was a climate change denier. Suffice it to say, I take his fiction as being on par with Star Wars science.

  30. Matthew Currie says

    I keep thinking that the next step will be a subscription model. If you want the deluxe model without the targeted advertising it will cost you.

  31. says

    …we’ve been using them for decades in limited applications… Not a suggestion of the suggested mayhem to the recipient.

    Exactly. And as I said elsewhere, there’s no reason to keep on listening to #QElon like he’s the only one doing anything in this field.

    Seriously, this is how #QElon wins: by buying into some cutting-edge-sounding line of business and then talking himself up like he’s the only one who can ever accomplish anything. And too many people who weren’t following the business closely before he showed up, just lap it all up and let themselves be swept up in all the hype, sometimes to the point of forgetting that the business has been getting decent results for YEARS before #QElon showed up.

  32. antaresrichard says

    I’m reminded of Donald Pleasence’s meek and mild Harold J. Finley with the embedded “link gate” in his brain, giving him not only the ability to control the surrounding electromagnetic field energy but, like Morbius, huge, subconsciously released, destructive power as well.


  33. yoav says

    I may think about considering it after I see irrefutable proof that Musk have stuck one into his own brain.

  34. says

    yoav: Not sure Musk would ever do that, but he has promised that: a) he COULD have a neural implant and we wouldn’t know it (because it wouldn’t do anything?); and b) he knows Theralink’s neural implants are so safe and effective he’s gladly have them implanted in his kids (without saying why they’d need them or what problem they’d fix).