Elon Musk has found the perfect addition to his line of work till date which includes SpaceX’s trips to Mars and Tesla’s vast fleet of self-driving cars. Neuralink – which uses technological augmentation to enhance the capabilities of the human brain. The official news was reported by Wall Street Journal’s Rolfe Winkler on Monday morning. Colonizing Mars to reduce the risk of human extinction was clearly not enough of a breakthrough, so in order to avoid the inevitable takeover of the Earth by machines, the billionaire entrepreneur wants to now merge human brains with computers through his new venture.
Elon has very often talked about both the capabilities of the human brain as well as the probable future of Artificial Intelligence. In the Beneficial AI 2017 conference, Elon Musk along with other great minds such as Sam Harris (neuroscientist) and Demis Hassabis (AI researcher) discussed Superintelligence. He believes that human “input” is very high and our “output” is limited by what he calls “meat sticks” i.e our fingers. The solution of this, in his opinion, is to connect AI directly to our brain, thus making our system closer to that of a machine. Musk had also voiced his concern of a probable future for humans where we lose a large share of our labor market to AI, at the World Government Summit 2017 in Dubai. Therefore the news of Neuralink does not come as a major surprise.
A brain computer interface which helps humans in improving themselves and allows interaction with computers without the bandwidth challenges that come with the current input methods such as keyboards, mice, and trackpads is known as “neural lace”. Back in August 2016 even, Musk had responded to a tweet about Neural Lace saying maybe there would be some kind of announcement in a few months.
@BelovedRevol Making progress. Maybe something to announce in a few months. Have played all prior Deus Ex. Not this one yet.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 28, 2016
Musk again responded to inquiring fans taking a follow up in January 2017 that there would be an announcement in a month thus clearly dropping hints about what is to come.
@BelovedRevol Maybe next month
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 25, 2017
Neuralink was registered in California as a medical research company last July and has been taking shape as a commercial venture over the course of the past year. Its purpose is to keep pace with the advancements in artificial intelligence by creating devices that can be implanted in the human brain. Currently, Neuralink is not focused on upgrading ordinary human brain power. Instead, it aims to find how brain interface might alleviate the symptoms of chronic medical conditions. This is somewhat along the lines of Kernal – a startup found by Braintree’s co-founder Bryan Johnson. Kernal aims to work towards reducing the effects of neurodegenerative diseases and eventually making our brains work faster and be more wired.
This is how most almost all of Musk’s ventures work out, though. The long-term goal seems too far fetched but once the short term goal has been managed, it helps clear path to build a sustainable plan for the ultimate goal. As of now among many other hurdles that Neuralink would have to conquer are the fact that people do not like the idea of having complex implants placed inside their skulls. In fact today the number of patients with even very basic stimulating devices are in tens of thousands. Apart from this, as per Neuroscience researchers, we have very limited understanding of how the neurons in a human brain communicate and the method to collect the data on the same is primitive. Due to all such obstacles, neural lace has only been tested on mice and Musk would have to get approval for human testing.
The Journal reported that Musk has discussed financing Neuralink primarily by himself, with the possibility of bringing in investors such as Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund. Entrepreneur – futurist Max Hadok has also been quoted as confirming Musk’s involvement in Neuralink. They also seem to have hired several leading researchers – including Vanessa Tolosa of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Philip Sabes of the University of California at San Francisco and Timothy Gardner of Boston University. Although they have not updated their LinkedIn profiles about the same, Gardner has confirmed to the Journal that he’s working for Neuralink.
The Neuralink.com web page currently only provides an email address for job applications. This page was once associated with a different venture of the same name from which they probably would have brought the domain. All in all, although the idea of having the capability of your brains right up there along with AI is extremely exciting, it is clearly not as easy as it sounds. There will be major ethical as well as technical hurdles for the product and it would be interesting to be a witness to Elon’s journey through the same.