Most people say they’re cool with having chips implanted in their brains, but only if they can turn them off

March 17, 2022, 2:00 PM UTC

Six out of 10 Americans would consider having a computer chip surgically implanted into their brains if they could turn the technology off or on.

That’s according to a survey released on Thursday by the Pew Research Center that analyzed the public’s view of cutting-edge technologies, including brain computing, artificial intelligence, and self-driving cars. 

One of the takeaways from the survey of 10,260 U.S. adults was that Americans tend to view technology more favorably if they feel they have autonomy and control.

For instance, 78% of respondents said they oppose brain chips for improving their cognitive abilities. But when given the option to disengage the brain chip’s effects, 59% of respondents said the technology is more acceptable.

“This speaks to control,” said Alec Tyson, associate director of research at Pew Research Center. “If I can control this technology, then I’m more open to it.”

Interest in brain computing has risen over the years due to Tesla founder Elon Musk’s Neuralink startup, which aims to conduct a clinical trial of its brain chip technology later this year. Musk has previously claimed that Neuralink’s technology could eventually be used to augment humans, potentially enabling people to store and replay their memories like watching videos on computers. However, multiple brain computing experts have previously told Fortune that the technology is decades away from such superhuman feats, if ever.

Additionally, brain chips, primarily used in clinical trials to help restore functions and sensations in people who have severe paralysis, can’t be turned off like they are smartphones. The tiny computer chips are medical devices that must be surgically grafted into the brain, where they can potentially remain for years, similar to heart pacemakers. 

About 83% of Americans said that they believe that the testing of brain chips in humans should meet higher standards than testing of current medical devices, underscoring the public’s fear of the technology’s safety. 

Also, 87% of respondents said that there should be higher standards for testing driverless cars compared to the testing of conventional ones. 

Americans are cautious about driverless vehicles, with 44% saying that the widespread use of autonomous cars is a “bad idea” versus 26% who believe it’s a “good idea,” while 29% were “not sure.”

But the survey said that seven in 10 Americans would more readily accept self-driving cars if the vehicles had a visible marking or feature to identify them to human drivers who are also on the road. Additionally, 67% of Americans said self-driving cars would be more acceptable if the vehicles used dedicated lanes, the survey said.

Ultimately, Americans’ opinions on self-driving cars and other kinds of A.I.-powered technology haven’t changed much over the years, noted Monica Anderson, a Pew Research Center associate director of research. Although Pew Research cannot directly compare the latest survey with older surveys of the public’s attitude toward technology, generally speaking most Americans’ feelings toward driverless cars and A.I. have not changed.

Americans are still wary about driverless cars and are primarily concerned that A.I. will obliterate jobs, just as they were five years ago.

What has changed is the public’s perception of tech companies, Anderson explained. Although the survey didn’t mention tech giants like Google-parent Alphabet or Facebook-parent Meta, some questions related to the use of A.I. by social media companies indirectly implicated the companies. 

For instance, 57% of respondents oppose social media services using facial recognition software to identify people in photos, indicating fears of corporate surveillance. And 86% of Republican respondents believe social media firms are censoring political viewpoints when they use A.I. to discover and remove misinformation. 

“There is some negatively when it comes to algorithms, when it comes to how these companies are using technology,” Anderson said.

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