In March 2023, Elon Musk joined dozens of other tech wonks, becoming a signatory to an open letter put out by the Future of Life Institute calling for “a pause” in Giant AI experiments, the lot feeling that the technology might get out of hand. The call for a pause seemed to signal that humanity and its needs were back in the calculus of things to come. Coincidentally, the pause came not long after the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) had rejected Musk’s latest request to begin testing on human subjects for his brain-computer interface (BCI) at Neuralink. The reasons for the FDA rejection included concerns about migrating wires that can damage the brain; risky lithium batteries; and device overheating.

Neuralink has, in the past, faced charges of “animal cruelty” for killing 1,500 animals in its testing labs, and no doubt this played on the minds of FDA regulators. So, Musk’s giant quest to go beyond BCI to, in the near future, virtual telepathy was itself put on pause. It may be that FDA regulators believed that Musk needed extra scrutiny of his motivations and seeming lack of concern for collateral damage — after all Musk had recruited 202,586 people for a one-way suicide mission to Mars. In any case, it may be that Musk believed that the only way for Neuralink to catch up with competitors in the emerging brain-computer interface (BCI) commercial development was to slow them down. At least one, Synchron, an Australian-based company (although its headquarters are in Brooklyn), had already begun human trials — with success.

Then, not long after the AI pause, in May 2023, Musk’s Neuralink was given the green light for human trials of its BCI. Elon Musk, like the proverbial tortoise who only makes progress by sticking his neck out, was ready to proceed on yet another adventure in technological play, following his supersonic hyper-loop train from to LA to SF (fail), electric vehicles (mostly fail), undercooked plan to send thousands to their deaths on a one-way trip to Mars (fail), and Twitter, now X (leadership fail). Musk wants “telepathic” communication between minds by way of the medium of the Internet.

The DARPA origins of Mind Control

While the publicly-proclaimed humanitarian aims of Neuralink, Synchron, and other BCI tech companies, are impressive and admirable, on a sales pitch level, where promises are made to consumers who will eventually determine if the product will be successful in the marketplace or not, we all know that promises cannot always be lived up to. For instance, one major product developed out of a (D)ARPA is the Internet. First developed as a response to the Russian launch of the Sputnik satellite, it was initially designed as an emergency facility for communicating vital data in the event of a nuclear war. Later, DARPA gifted the Internet to the public, first through universities and other institutions, and then evolved further with Domain Name Services and the creation of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee. Soon, the Internet was rebranded as a means of global resource sharing, first at the CERN facility in Switzerland, and then the world embraced it. And here we are. Forgotten, until recently, is the fact that the Internet was a product of the US Defense Department.

As Wikipedia describes it, “It is a network of networks that consists of private, public, academic, business, and government networks of local to global scope, linked by a broad array of electronic, wireless, and optical networking technologies.”

CERN scientist Tim Berners-Lee has watched as the World Wide Web quickly began deteriorating as commercial interests polluted its streams. Today, Berners-Lee is actively advertising the Intern as a failure, and he is an advocate for a rebuild. To no avail. As Bob Dylan sang in his youth, “Money doesn’t talk — it swears.”

Today, the gifted Internet has been quietly repo-ed by the Defense of Defense, who openly regard it as “a battlefield” that needs nation-state guarding, and on which it pursues daily cyberwarfare with its enemies — primarily the Russians and Chinese. In the repo process, the DoD has decided to gather up everyone’s data, too. We are all, Americans and foreigners alike, potential enemies of the state and dangerous dissidents. The Intelligence Community (IC) uses social media as collectors of personal data as well. Not all of it is publicly delineated or expressed, as the government can go to social media (and others) and give them “a letter” that allows for the deep mining of personal data, and forces, by threat of imprisonment, silence about the acquisition of that data. This is not a problem for Big Social Media, as many of them already have lucrative contracts with IC agencies.

It so happens that DARPA was the main developer of BCI. The program started out as Next-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology (N3) in 2018. Its purpose was to enhance the likelihood of battlefield success utilizing BCI weapons. As DARPA puts it in a newsletter for public consumption, “These wearable interfaces could ultimately enable diverse national security applications such as control of active cyber defense systems and swarms of unmanned aerial vehicles, or teaming with computer systems to multitask during complex missions.”

Improved warfare outcomes are corroborated in an IEEE Spectrum piece that tells the reader:

By simply popping on a helmet or headset, soldiers could conceivably command control centers without touching a keyboard; fly drones intuitively with a thought; even feel intrusions into a secure network. While the tech sounds futuristic, DARPA wants to get it done in four years.

That could mean this futuristic equipment is being tried out in the drone-laden skies of Ukraine right now.

In a piece in LiveScience, “The Government Is Serious About Creating Mind-Controlled Weapons,” we read that DARPA is even developing a technique that would allow N3 developers to “use the system to transmit images from the visual cortex of one person to that of another.” There have also been experiments to think-push emotions from one mind to another.

In addition, DARPA’s Al Emondi, the N3 program manager tells us that the Agency is:

preparing for a future in which a combination of unmanned systems, artificial intelligence, and cyber operations may cause conflicts to play out on timelines that are too short for humans to effectively manage with current technology alone. By creating a more accessible brain-machine interface that doesn’t require surgery to use, DARPA could deliver tools that allow mission commanders to remain meaningfully involved in dynamic operations that unfold at rapid speed.

Synchron is essentially developing just such a non-invasive system that meets the military’s needs, while also providing some of the benefits it advertises. In this scenario, Synchron is actually an extension of the military. Here is a short clip that explains the non-intrusive process.

These relationships between the military, war corporates and more benign-seeming applications, such as stentrodes, are the tricky kinds of capitalist collusions that President Dwight Eisenhower warned his fellow Americans about in his final television address to the nation in 1960. Beware the complex interweaving of the “Military-Industrial Complex,” or what we refer to as the Deep State today. DDE feared it could lead to tyranny.

After the JFK assassination, the Deep State and its stakeholders took measures to hush up secret para-political activities, including having the Press label any theories of malignant design ‘rogue’ elements of government as “conspiracy theories,” while at the same time feeding the flames of such purgatorial fires. Usually, the Press used the convenient Cold War-driven slogan: “The Russkies did it.” In 1975, Ike’s admonition to the American public was revealed to have been sage and salient. Senator Frank Church, from Idaho, opened hearings into the doings of the IC community, and discovered some ugly details of secret state machinations that sent a frisson through the activist and counterculture community. He reported that elements of IC were not unafraid of working with the mafia to get things done, that they quite enjoyed assassinating ‘unfriendly’ world leaders, and that their intentions, under the unqualified guise of national security, were infiltrating lawful dissidents at home, using illegal wiretaps, and had conducted mind-control experiments (Project MKUltra). But more importantly, and most germane to the current discussion, Church revealed the degree of advanced surveillance the US government had its disposal, and did his best to express its horrific danger without sounding like ‘a conspiracy theorist’. In a now-famous Meet the Press segment, he told the public what was at stake if the apparatus was not stopped:

Let me tell you this: In the need to develop a capacity to know what potential enemies are doing, the United States government has perfected a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air…Now, that is necessary and important to the United States. As we look abroad at enemies or potential enemies, we must know at the same time that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such as the capability to monitor everything telephone conversations, telegrams. It doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back… I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge…And we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss there. That’s the abyss from which there is no return.

There would be, he said, no place to hide from them. Fifty have passed since then, and it looks like we have entered that abyss of no return that Church refers to.

The quest for BCI and mind control is picking up; it is not only the US military looking for an edge. Other agencies and private companies are working energetically to find this bizarre Holy Grail of telepathy and mental manipulation. A Scientific American article a few years back, “Mind Reading and Mind Control Technologies Are Coming,” lays out the bleak terrain, and offers up the sage advice that makes it sensible for a call to a Pause: We need to figure out the ethical implications before they arrive. But, incidentally, that noble pause around the dangers of AI only lasted a few months (and never really stopped).

As with the Internet, it’s important to remember as commerce steps into the unknown waters of mind-control by means of BCIs that such research and development and eventual roll-out is the product of the US Defense Department, whose goals and mission is not necessarily benign nor controllable. These days, the Defense Department relies on contractors and their subcontractors, who are beyond the easy scrutiny of government oversight. Edward Snowden, in his memoir Permanent Record, alludes to the contractor phenomenon in a chapter he titles Homo Contractus. It is by these means, mixed with setting up laboratories for far-advanced technologies in places that have no democratic mission or human rights concerns, that the most dangerous and dystopian applications of mind-control might develop. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are strong contenders for such innovation.

BCIs and the Rise of Big Mind

Brain-Computer Interfaces are sold as Jesus. That is to say, they are marketed by competitors in the field as enhancers and providers of a life worth living for those individuals who have had misfortunes with bodily functionality. Synchron, for instance, provides a video of a paraplegic man engaging with a computer and the Internet by merely thinking commands to the computer. BCIs promise to one day give back lost sight (Neuralink’s Blindsight) and to cure the lame (Neuralink). Neuralink is like Jesus. And one day soon, we’ll be able to telepathically read each other’s minds, says Musk.

The Brain-Computer Interfaces

BCIs allow for a means for a brain-reader to pick up signals and to transfer those signals to a bluetooth device, which decodes (or encodes, depending on how you want to look at it) and forwards the signals on to, say, an Internet connected PC, allowing the user to command the PC to perform functions, such as writing an email or shopping on Amazon or even using Zoom, merely by thinking. This seems preposterous, and one scratches at the noggin trying to get one’s head around this phenomenon. Very basically, it means that our neural brain signals are (a) translatable (from nerve signals to digital sequences of electricity that the PC and Internet understand), and are (b) transportable (we have a device that can do such translating). How simple it seems. Indeed, the monstrations provided by BCI competitors show a process that makes one exclaim, Sancta Simplicitas! The implications (later) are enormous.

Here’s how the main technologies work. In the acquisition of signals from the brain, it is very important for the listening device or sensor to be as close to the brain as possible for strong signaling. There are two methods for providing such proximity: intrusive and non-intrusive. BCI researchers can implant or sew a receiver directly onto the brain, which provides the strongest signalling. Or they can use a proximal device that gets close to the brain but does not touch it directly. This is one of the reasons why Synchron had an advantage early in its application to the FDA, as the risk to a BCI ‘wearer’ was considerably lessened in the non-intrusive method.

The American BCI: Intrusive Implants

In the American BCI marketplace there are currently two leading developers — Neuralink and Blackrock Neurotech.1 Each has an intrusive approach: the BCIs directly integrate with the brain. In the case of Neuralink, the brain-listening device is sewn to the brain with a special sewing machine. Blackrock embeds what it calls the Utah Array directly onto the brain.

The Aussie BCI: Non-Intrusive Stentrode

But perhaps nobody can easily catch up with Synchron, the Melbourne, Australian-based (with headquarters in Brooklyn) company which has gone on to be a top leader in mind-controlling technology, after a successful human trial with endovascular entry into the brain to slide what they call a “stentrode” that picks up “data” from the brain that is then able to communicate instructions to a computer by means of thoughts-only. Synchron hopes to sell the device as a leading-edge means to enable individuals with various forms of paralysis, including stroke, spinal cord injuries, motor neurone disease, and even blindness. The company’s site tells us, “Synchron uses a minimally-invasive endovascular procedure (similar to the placement of stents) that avoids open brain surgery.” [see the procedure explained.]

The Military, Government and Corporate Investors

Synchron has had a major advantage over competitors from the start. $10m of seed money came from the Pentagon’s DARPA, and the Australian government kicked in millions more for the non-invasive stentrose, making Synchron able to crow on their website that their product was “radically outpacing traditional BCI.” It should be noted that Blackrock is also a DARPA start-up. Neuralink doesn’t really need DARPA, of course, as it is financed by Elon Musk and his billions, which affords independence from military requirements. But Synchron’s product most closely meets the mission of DARPA “to support the warfighter.” It is wise to remember this mission as the propaganda about BCI’s Jesus-hood sets in.

Synchron has been backed not only by DARPA, but also by heavy hitters in capital, including Khosla Ventures, primary financial backer of wunderkind Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, out of which came the controversial ChatGPT. And more recently, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates have become financial supporters of Synchron’s BCI after its successes in Australia and its subsequent introduction of its non-intrusive technology in the US. This could be a worry, as both Amazon and Microsoft share personal information with the US intelligence community.

The Indian-born Vinod Khosla is a firebrand with his venture irons in a lot of bright fires. Oft-described as a “risk junkie,” Khosla’s vision conjures up solutions to these rhetorical questions:

Large change happens, but is not credible until after the fact. Could you imagine a computer in every home in 1985, let alone hundreds of them? Grandma using email in 1990? The internet in 1995? Pervasive mobile phones in 2000? The ‘there is an app for that’ phone without a keyboard with millions of apps in 2005? Political manipulation in 2010 with social media? AI in 2015? [Medium post]

He helps fund projects like car-free cities, ‘superhuman customer support voice assistants powered by AI,’ Mach 5 commercial jets, limitless clean fusion, synthetic meat, and many other dazzlers.

He is seemingly in symbiotic relationships with Tom Oxley, CEO of Synchron, who can see with Khosla ‘pushed’ empathetic experiences from, say, a brain NYC to a brain in Tokyo, and with Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, who has benign totalitarian plans for the world, as he openly expressed in a 2019 interview with Khosla. Altman says, “I think it will be the most significant technological transformation in human history. I think it will eclipse the agricultural revolution and the industrial revolution, the Internet revolution all put together.”

Khosla, Oxley, and Altman represent a fearsome triumvirate and it isn’t difficult to discern how their avowed good intentions for the world could go catastrophically wrong.

Mind to Mind

Of all the BCI companies, so far only Neuralink has expressed the ambition of one day soon achieving mind-to-mind communication by means of BCIs. They already have a device they have named Telepathy, presumably in anticipation of that goal. This is the mother lode. A system that could be set so that two minds could silently interact using the Internet — either by DSL at home or wirelessly on the road — creates a scenario that strikes one as something out of The Outer Limits or a cheesy episode of Star Trek. Yet, here it is. Its growth and evolution is limited only by current technology. As has been the case, probably for millenia, what comes next, when we enter the quantum-computer phase of this dreamscape, and the system, the hive, the conduit, all speed up depends on who controls it (See Marx.) There is the potential for the establishment of a global totalitarian system that cannot be defeated, aided, in a nightmare scenario, by AI having achieved AGI, and enslaving. One can imagine a scenario where leftists are summarily rounded up, Pol Pot style, and fitted with devices that read and torment and control their minds, a veritable Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib of the mind, presided over savagely mean girls in ape suits. Cain returned from the wilderness.

  1. Technically, even Synchron, though its operations function in Australia, with its partnership with Melbourne University anchoring the research arm of the commercial offering, is headquartered in the USA and was sponsored by DARPA. But here, for contrast we’ll treat it as an Australian entity. It is partially funded by the Australian government.↩︎

    (Featured Image: “hand off” by jurvetson is licensed under CC BY 2.0.)


  • John Hawkins

    John Hawkins is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in publications around the world, including Rumpus, Counterpunch, The Australian, and the Morning Star. His focus is culture and the humanities and the stresses they are under. He is a former columnist for the now-defunct Prague Post and an editor for OpEd News. He has masters degrees in applied linguistics, literary studies, creative writing, and education. He is a PhD candidate in philosophy at a university in Oceania, researching the future of human consciousness in the age of AI. He can be reached at his Substack site:

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