Elon Musk wants to get inside your brain. No, seriously. That's the root of a new endeavor he announced July 16 in a presentation livestreamed from California Academy of Science. It's called Neuralink, and the name is pretty literal.
Neuralink's goal is to link microscopic processors in your brain with threads more narrow than human hair. Those threads read activity in the brain's neurons and permit the user to control things with the mind, sending data to sensors on the skull—data which is then processed by a hearing aid-like computer worn behind one ear.
Designboom transcribed some of Musk's remarks: "I think this is going to be important at a civilization-wide scale," he reportedly said, "even under a benign artificial intelligence, we will be left behind. With a high bandwidth brain-machine interface, we will have the option to go along for the ride."
Depending on your perspective that might sound pretty creepy. More quotes from Musk won't dispel that feeling. Neuralink is all about achieving "a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence," he said, before cautioning that "this is not a mandatory thing."
"This is something you can choose to have if you want," Musk continued, and man, isn't that a relief? He also noted that this isn't technology out of nowhere—Neuralink's tech was developed based on plenty of academic research, but there isn't anything out there today that can read increases in neuronal energy the way Neuralink can.
Of course, elective brain surgery is quite the hump to get over if Musk wants Neuralink to become a thing. But maybe it won't be that bad! From Designboom:
[To] insert the device neuralink has also developed a surgical robot equipped with advanced optics, capable of weaving the delicate threads throughout brain tissue without damaging blood vessels the neurosurgical robot inserts six threads (192 electrodes) per minute using a 24-micron needle. Neuralink described the robot [as working] ‘somewhat like a sewing machine’ to implant the threads.
Once embedded in the user’s brain, the threads will be capable of performing both read and write operations at very high data volume. The external receiver would then wirelessly communicate with the embedded chip and connect to apps, though it currently relies on a hardwired external connection (USB-C).
Yeah, it's kind of hard to avoid this sounding like something straight out of spooky, dystopian science fiction. But the benefits sound awesome.
According to Musk, Neuralink could boost memory, aid brain injury victims, even quadriplegics. It would also essentially provide the means for artificially-induced mind-reading, a.k.a. telepathy.
There you go. If you are ready to give in and embrace the joys of artificial intelligence, Elon Musk truly believes this is a positive thing.
CNN got a quote from futurist, researcher and author Daniel Newman that illustrated the kind of wall Musk's company is up against when it comes to making this work:
"The idea of entrusting big enterprise with our brain data should create a certain level discomfort for society," said Daniel Newman, principal analyst at Futurum Research and co-author of the book Human/Machine.
"There is no evidence that we should trust or be comfortable with moving in this direction," he added.
When will Neuralink be available? No one knows. Whenever it happens, though, sounds like it might be way too soon.