After venturing on rockets and cars, Elon Musk is now exploring the prospect of a “neural lace” that would merge a human brain with artificial intelligence in his new startup, Neuralink. Still in the earliest stage, the newly found company specifically plans to make brain implants that could improve memory or allow more direct interfacing with computing devices.
Neuralink is registered in California as a medical research company, according to Engadget. Just like Tesla and SpaceX, Musk’s new company plans to make a working prototype to prove that technology is safe and viable before proceeding to what the site calls a more ambitious goal of boosting the performance of human race. In Neuralink’s case, the prototype will come as brain implants which might alleviate the symptoms of dangerous and chronic medical conditions like epilepsy, Parkinson’s, or depression.
The SpaceX and Tesla CEO hasn’t been shy about his brain-computer interface venture, hinting Neuralink’s existence over the last six months or so. More recently, he told a crowd in Dubai that we will likely see “a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence” over time. Musk added that “it’s mostly about the bandwidth, the speed of the connection between your brain and the digital version of yourself, particularly output.”
On Twitter, Musk also responded to fans’ queries about his progress on the so-called “neural lace.”
Maybe next month
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 25, 2017
Elon Musk Neuralink
An official announcement is yet to be made regarding the company’s exact goals. However, Musk is expected to finance Neuralink himself with a capital borrowed against equity from his other two companies. The company has reportedly started hiring several high-profile academics in the field of neuroscience, including flexible electrodes and nanotechnology expert Dr. Venessa Tolosa, UCSF professor Philip Sabes, and Boston University professor Timothy Gardner, who studies neural pathways in the brains of songbirds.
The idea of neural lace may sound far-fetched now, but it’s worth noting that this is basically how Musk’s other companies started. Both Tesla and SpaceX used the same approach, starting with near-term products to pave a sustainable path to grand designs such as landing on Mars or affordable, mass-produced long-range electric vehicles.
The Quest To Hack The Human Brain
But even if Musk’s Neuralink ventures proves successful, there’s still a long way to go before they can start plugging an AI directly into human brains.
There are very few people on the planet that have brain implants partly because of how dangerous and invasive it is to operate on the human brain. Neuroscience researchers also believe we still have very limited understanding of “how the neurons in the human brain communicate, and our methods for collecting data on those neurons is rudimentary.” Then there’s the idea of volunteers to have implants placed inside their skulls.
Neuroscientist Blake Richards told The Verge in an interview earlier this year that only those who have exhausted every other medical option would be sold to the idea of brain implants. He noted that “most healthy individuals are uncomfortable with the idea of having a doctor crack open their skull.”