Elon Musk’s neurotechnology company, Neuralink, has announced late Tuesday night that it will be ready to treat brain injuries starting next year. Neuralink is described as a “brain-machine interface startup,” which sounds like something I would come up with at science camp while hot-gluing tin foil to a baseball cap. In his livestream announcement, Elon Musk detailed plans to “merge” human intelligence with artificial intelligence because science fiction hasn’t warned us enough.
“Ultimately we can do a full brain machine interface,” Musk said. “This is going to sound pretty weird. Ultimately we can achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence. This is not a mandatory thing, this is something you can choose to have if you want. This is going to be really important at a civilization-level scale. Even in a benign AI scenario, we will be left behind. With a high-bandwidth brain machine interface we can go along for the ride and have the option of merging with AI.”
Currently, Neuralink’s plan is to introduce a chip that will treat various brain injuries through a gradual process—mind control is apparently not on the table...yet. The AI is supposed to treat illnesses such as dementia and Alzheimer’s that affect the brain’s ability to store memory and process, two things robots are honestly pretty good at. Musk will also seek out FDA approval for the chips, assuring customers that they will “see it coming” as the product becomes more complex and wide-reaching. Very comforting.
Neuralink still needs to determine the details of how the chip will interpret and communicate with human brain functions. Right now, they have described the system as a network of threads that mimic neuron receptors, able to pick up individual electrical signals. Musk hopes to begin human clinical trials with these devices by 2020, so if anyone wants Elon Musk implanted into their brain they need not wait too long. In the announcement, Musk pointed out that with current technology, a monkey’s brain can operate a computer.
Looking to make brain surgery as minimally invasive as possible (no easy task), Neuralink is also developing a robot to implant the chip, currently testing on rats with an alleged 87% success rate. The goal is also to transmit neural data wirelessly, ultimately monitoring the brain via an iPhone app.
While the promise of curing dementia is an admirable one, the fact that Musk even needs to clarify that he’s not making a mind control device should tip him off that he’s playing more of a cartoon supervillain than a serious tech entrepreneur. His latest ventures have rendered mixed results, as it seems like the Silicon Valley mogul’s priorities are too scattered to deliver his lofty Lex-Luther promises. Neuralink’s work has a precedent, however, in that implants have been used to treat disorders such as spinal cord paralysis for over a decade.
“Neuralink didn’t come out of nowhere, there’s a long history of academic research here,” Max Hodak, President of Neuralink, said at the presentation “We’re, in the greatest sense, building on the shoulders of giants.”
The secretive tech company admits that it still has “a long way to go” before neural cyborgs become a reality, but I’ll be on the lookout for Tesla-driving mind zombies, just in case.