Elon Musk Doesn't Care About Your Neurorights
PLUS: the docfluencer will see you now
Welcome to the Friday round-up, where I infodump on the rabbit holes I went down this week! There are many rabbit hole entrances hidden in this newsletter, be careful, you might fall into one.
Elon’s New Neuromarket, Your New Neurorights
The discourse is aflutter with theories about why Elon Musk spent an ungodly amount of money buying the world’s most angry hellsite instead of, um, feeding all the world’s hungry people 7 times over, but an intriguing one I stumbled across brings up potential benefits for his company, Neuralink.
Musk fanboy Oliver Renick writes in Forbes:
It makes complete sense that the man behind Neuralink, Musk’s company exploring brain-machine interfaces, would want unfiltered access to this digital consciousness.
The theory fits well with Musk’s apparent interest in an absolutist version of free speech for Twitter. The daunting challenge of the person running the platform is where and how to set up the guardrails for human communication. If you are seeking unfettered access to how the human mind works, you are going to be in favor of as few guardrails as possible while maximizing volume. You want the raw, unfiltered data.
While I find this theory most interesting, I do hope it’s not true, because have you seen what happens to AI that get trained on Twitter datasets? It’s not cute.
Musk has been tweeting that Neuralink will see human trials this year, despite the alleged horrors that occurred during their monkey trials. It’s not totally clear what Musk wants to do with the tech — he’s said everything from “curing” autism and “morbid obesity” to creating the new smartphone inside our heads.
Apparently brain-computer interfaces are no longer just Black Mirror episodes — they have so far been implanted long-term in 35 people. Scientific American explains:
Last year alone, scientists described a study participant using a robotic arm that could send sensory feedback directly to his brain; a prosthetic speech device for someone left unable to speak by a stroke; and a person able to communicate at record speeds by imagining himself handwriting.
It’s not that I think these devices are evil on their face. I love tech (which is why I keep writing about it!) and I think it’s great that we have the ability to help people walk, talk, and feel sensations that they want to feel. But when all the billionaires get really into something, I start to find that thing very sus.
”You basically can’t separate transhumanism from capitalism. An idea that’s so enthusiastically pursued by Musk and Peter Thiel, and by the founders of Google, is one that needs to be seen as a mutation of capitalism, not a cure for it.”
There are lots of bioethical questions about personal autonomy, privacy, and inequality swirling around brain-interface tech that these billionaires don’t seem very concerned with at all, like, who gets to use the chip that lets you send texts with your mind? (People who can afford it.) Who is reading all the data being gleaned from your brain’s chip? (Corporations.) What are they doing with that data? (Profit??)
To defend mental privacy, we are working on a three-pronged approach. The first consists of legislating “neuroprotection.” We believe that data obtained from the brain, which we call “neurodata,” should be rigorously protected by laws similar to those applied to organ donations and transplants. We ask that “neurodata” not be traded and only be extracted with the consent of the individual for medical or scientific purposes…
The second approach involves the proposal of proactive ideas; for example, that the companies and organizations that manufacture these technologies should adhere to a code of ethics from the outset, just as doctors do with the Hippocratic Oath.
lol Rafael! That Hippocratic Oath didn’t work so good under capitalism!
Juste was one of the researchers that inspired the White House’s BRAIN Initiative, a massive multibillion dollar funding program investing in over 500 neuroscience labs, with the goal of mapping the human brain. (It’s sorta like the Human Genome Project, but for neurons?)
He basically gave the game away in this El País article, though:
In terms of the economy, neurotechnology is likely to open up an enormous field of development for business and industry, similar to what happened with the Human Genome Project – the major international genetic mapping initiative launched in the late 1980s that saw a 124-fold increase in investment in this field. This economic factor was the one that did most to convince the US Congress.
Oh, the economic factor. It’s the markets. Isn’t it always the markets? Elon’s brain-interface tech isn’t the philanthropy he smugly insists it is, it’s just a shiny, new, virtually untapped market.
The Rise of The Docfluencer
Doctors are influencers now, and they’re selling access to medical advice through NFTs. Or, wait, it’s not medical advice, that’s illegal, it’s “medical infotainment”.
Buzzfeed reported on this cursed concept on Monday:
MetaDocs’ mechanisms are outlined in its white paper, which explains a system where NFT buyers will receive “heart tokens” for each day they own a MetaDocs NFT. Tokens can be redeemed for three tiers of doctor “experiences,” from DMs to AMAs to video chats. The MetaDocs website also states that NFT holders will receive “discounts on selected apparel, personal care products, medical testing, health supplements and much more.”
Their website says: Decentralizing health care starts here! Estimated presale cost for a jpeg of a doctor who’s famous on TikTok is around $570, which is more than just going to a walk-in clinic without insurance. I’m not sure anyone knows what decentralizing even means anymore, they just throw it on any new blockchain thing to make it sound good.
This project raises larger questions about doctors being influencers in general, as KC Ifeanyi reports in Fast Company:
“It’s the Wild West,” says Dom Sisti, an assistant professor in the department of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania. “Social media was something that we as bioethicists just didn’t have our eyes on—and it’s coming back now to haunt us.”
What are the ethical implications, for example, of a therapist like Dr. Courtney Tracy advertising a telehealth company called Minded, which pretty much solely exists to prescribe psych meds over the internet?
Or what about a psychiatrist like Sasha Hamdani, a popular ADHD influencer known online as @thepsychdoctorMD, doing sponsored posts for sketchy telehealth companies like BetterHelp and Cerebral, or promoting EndeavorRX, a new prescription video game for ADHD? Is it cool for a psychiatrist to advertise a treatment they also prescribe? Should Hamdani be doing ‘disease awareness marketing’ for a disorder that generates her own income?
Most of this stuff is allowed due to legal advertising loopholes, but that doesn’t automatically make it ethical. Doctors on the internet are afforded more clout because of the MD after their name, but at the end of the day, they’re just people, and they’re vulnerable to corporate capture and greed, just like the rest of us.
Bonus Somewhat-Related Links:
Influencers are being given discounts for plastic surgery as a promotional strategy, fueling an already-vicious feedback loop of body image issues related to social media: “I got my lips done, not because I was insecure, but because I was offered free lips,” he said. “Who is going to say no to free lips?”
Here’s a report in HealthDay about the new and mostly unregulated landscape of patient influencers being paid to promote medical products!
Some psychiatrists have been trying to argue that they never actually told anyone they had a chemical imbalance, so a few of my favorite critical psychs went back and checked the receipts.
The People With Disabilities Foundation recently won a lawsuit against the Social Security Administration in California after the SSA tried to deny a woman benefits because she had refused to take antidepressants, due to a history of severe side effects in her family. The Foundation writes: This has been and remains an important disability rights issue also applying to inpatients for at least the last 50 years.