Neuralink’s device is a tiny computer chip, intended to be sewn by a robot “like a sewing machine” into the brain on an array of superfine electrode threads. It is supposed to pick up signals in the brain and then translate them into motor commands. Many in the field imagine using these neural interfaces to control things like a prosthesis, or perhaps to interact with our gadgets. Musk, in the typical musky way, has more daring ideas. He described the Neuralink project, as a whole, as helping to “achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence”.
It’s quite a task, and we don’t know what Friday’s event will demonstrate. (Neuralink did not respond to a request for comment.) Presumably, Musk sees a chance to convince people that the company is making real progress towards its even lofty goals and that it is ahead of its competition.
“There is a lot of uncertainty in the whole field as to whether [Neuralink] Says Sid Kouider, a former neuroscientist at the National Center for Scientific Research, who has since launched his own neural interface startup, NextMind. Clinical neural interfaces are strong enough, but Neuralink aims to boost the brain power of the common person with highly invasive surgery. This, for Kouider, looks like a moon stroke. “Or even more, like a blow from Jupiter. ”
Researchers have been reducing brain-computer interfaces for decades. The Department of Defense got involved in the 1970s, prompted by visions of a superhuman army. Other neuroscientists have attempted to develop devices in a clinical setting. Brain implants show promise for restoring movement in a person whose spinal connections have been severed or for controlling tremors associated with Parkinson’s disease.
In recent years, technologists have also become interested in neural interfaces. If these devices can help people control a prosthetic arm, thinking goes, then they could also allow people to “type in thoughts” without using a keypad or controlling their smart home devices without issuing a command. A brain-computer interface could, in theory, open up a whole new way for humans to interact with the digital world.
Musk isn’t the only one pursuing this vision. Bryan Johnson, the founder of Braintree, has been working on a similar startup called Kernel for years. Paradromics began work on a medical neural interface, “building to a scale 10 times that of Neuralink,” according to its CEO, Matt Angle. Mark Zuckerberg is also invested in brain-computer interfaces. At Facebook’s developer conference in 2017, the company demonstrated technology that would allow people to “hear with their skin” and last year, Facebook acquired startup CTRL Labs, which builds a non-invasive neural interface. .