Elon Musk's brain-computer interface company Neuralink has finally broken its silence. Since the company was formed in 2016, it has kept its plans secret, but in a presentation on Tuesday night it showed off its vision and explained what the firm has done so far. At the event, the company unveiled a brain-computer interface – a technology that allows machines to read brain activity. Neuralink says its device will have around 3000 surgically implanted electrodes, each of which will be able monitor around 1000 neurons at a time. The electrodes will be attached to around 100 extremely thin threads, between 4 and 6 micrometres wide, which is much less than the width of a hair.
Tesla founder Elon Musk has launched tech startup Neuralink to build implants that connect human brains with computer interfaces via artificial intelligence. The approaching technology would see groups of minuscule, flexible electrode "threads" implanted into the human brain by a neurosurgical robot. These threads detect and record the electrical signals in the brain, and transmit this information outside the body. This has the potential to create a scalable high-bandwidth brain-machine interface (BMI) system, meaning that it connects the brain to an external device to form a brain-machine interface. The goal is to use Neuralink to understand and treat different forms of brain or spine-related disorders.
Elon Musk said startup Neuralink, which aims to build a scalable implant to connect human brains with computers, has already implanted chips in rats and plans to test its brain-machine interface in humans within two years, with a long-term goal of people "merging with AI." Brain-machine interfaces have been around for awhile. Some of the earliest success with the technology include Brown University's BrainGate, which first enabled a paralyzed person to control a computer cursor in 2006. Since then a variety of research groups and companies, including the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and DARPA-backed Synchron, have been working on similar devices. There are two basic approaches: You can do it invasively, creating an interface with an implant that directly touches the brain, or you can do it non-invasively, usually by electrodes placed near the skin. Neuralink, says Musk, is going to go the invasive route.
When Elon Musk first started talking about launching a brain-computer interface company, he made a number of comments that set expectations for what that idea might entail. The company, he said, was motivated by his concerns about AI ending up hostile to humans: providing humans with an interface directly into the AI's home turf might prevent hostilities from developing. Musk also suggested that he hoped to avoid any electrodes implanted in the brain, since that might pose a barrier to adoption. At his recent public launch of the company (since named Neuralink), worries about hostile AIs did get a mention--but only in passing. Instead, we got a detailed technical description of the hardware behind Neuralink's brain-computer interface, which would rely on surgery and implanted hardware.
Elon Musk announced late Tuesday night that the final goal of Neuralink, his brain-machine interface startup, is to allow humans to "achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence," and that by "merging with AI," humans will be able to keep up with AI. Musk plans to begin human trials on an early version of Neuralink intended to treat brain injuries next year. "Ultimately we can do a full brain machine interface," Musk said in an announcement that was widely livestreamed. "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." Musk has become famous for his moonshot projects, his lofty promises, his quick temper on Twitter, and his various plans for society that don't include input from the rest of us.