Elon Musk’s Neuralink is Sci-Fi Made Real
You may have heard that Elon Musk wants to embed tiny computers in people’s brains so humans can keep pace with the advances being made in the field of artificial intelligence.
That’s the part that gets the press. After all, it seems crazy. But what the founder of Tesla (TSLA) and SpaceX is actually doing is more compelling … and important.
He’s building technology that will allow humans to access more of their brain functions. And he’s doing this through his Neuralink company, which is dedicated to developing interfaces between brains and machines.
Futurists like Ray Kurzweil have been talking about this for decades …
|Watch a video of last month’s Neuralink
launch event on YouTube here.
He calls it “Singularity,” the process where humans and machines finally merge. By 2045, he figures computers will have “human level intelligence” and the technology will exist to make convergence inevitable.
And Musk’s invention might just be the first significant step
Before you dismiss all this as quackery, you should know previous Kurzweil predictions have been uncanny …
In his 1990 book “The Age of Intelligent Machines,” he predicted the internet would become the defining consumer technology of our generation. Considering CompuServe and Prodigy together accounted for little more than 1 million users at the time, that seemed like a crazy talk.
For good measure, Kurzweil also predicted the rise of mobile phones, fax machines and even the fall of the Soviet Union. Later books said we should expect supercomputers in the cloud and nano robots capable of performing the most delicate medical procedures.
All these things came true.
Musk says his technology will be ready for implants within a year. The immediate target market is people who have become paralyzed.
Our sensory and motor functions are controlled by a series of electrochemical spikes in the brain. As neurons fire across our synapses, they send complex commands to our eyes, ears and limbs.
Musk and his team at Neuralink want to build a brain-machine interface that interprets and controls those commands.
And it’s not nearly as far-fetched as seems.
The basic technology already exists. Dr. Richard Norman, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Utah, in 1997, developed the Utah Array. The tiny piece of silicon, only a quarter of an inch on its side, has 256 electrodes that can be attached to the central nervous system to listen to neural activity.
Patients fitted with the device have been able to communicate via computers, using only their minds.
Since then, brain implants have only developed …
BrainGate, a system developed at Brown University, allowed patients who had previously lost all motor function to play pong on a computer and move robotic arms through their implants.
Researchers at Neuralink began by developing ultrathin electrodes called threads. At only 10 to 40 microns in width, threads are thinner than a strand of human hair. They are small enough to penetrate brain tissue without puncturing blood vessels, and they can be packed more tightly on silicon.
Researchers say finished chips will have 1,000 threads. A single application might have as many as 10 chips.
If patients using the Utah Array can communicate on computers using only 256 electrodes, imagine what is possible with 10,000.
Neuralink is also developing a medical robot to perform the implant procedure with precision. The sewing-machine-like device is supposed to be minimally invasive because only a small hole is required given the small size of the threads and chips.
In the future, Musk says the procedure will be no more invasive than getting Lasik eye surgery.
The other bit of hardware is a Bluetooth receiver that will connect to an implant located behind the patient’s ear. The wearable wireless device will house a battery, get software upgrades over the air and will connect to a smartphone for training.
Musk has some interesting mandatory requirements for the device. Neuralink must:
- Be completely wireless …
- Have years to decades of viability …
- Use a practical amount of bandwidth, and …
- Be suitable for home use.
These suggest his long-term goals may stretch beyond helping individuals with disabilities.
In the past, Musk has said he sees the evolution of cybernetics as a defensive measure. His opinion is that artificially intelligent machines that learn at exponential rates pose a grave risk to humans. Ultimately, they will be given tasks with tricky moral choices that involve human life.
It’s not “Terminator” … but it’s not far off.
It’s a view directly opposed by Kurzweil, but shared by other noted thinkers like Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft (MSFT), and the late astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.
Hawking explained his concerns during an online forum. He spoke about intelligent machines developed to run a hydroelectric project. Given their core competency, would those machines choose to flood lands for the betterment of the project despite the existence of large colonies of anthills?
Hawking concluded the machines do not flood the land because they hate ants. They choose to flood because it’s within their core competency.
Now, imagine humans as the ants in this scenario.
Musk believes the answer is an implant designed to use the full capacity of our brains. In his view, it would eliminate the threat of AIs taking over, since we would merge with them.
Maybe it’s not as crazy as the headlines make it seem.
While Neuralink and the Singularity might still be a few decades away from impacting most of us, there is another technological boom on the immediate horizon … one that represents a $12.3 trillion market. One that will revolutionize industries we haven’t even considered as connected until now.
My system has targeted an opportunity in this space that no one will see coming … and this coming Tuesday, I’ll name this company in a FREE online briefing for Weiss readers. Click here to tell me you’re coming.
Jon D. Markman