Elon Musk says he wants to merge your brain with a computer. But by his own admission, the idea of allowing people to control their smartphone or connect directly to the internet with their thoughts is many years away. “It will take a long time,” Musk said at an event for his brain-computer interface startup Neuralink Tuesday night in San Francisco.
Nonetheless, Musk claimed that Neuralink could be ready to test its technology in human beings who are paralyzed as early as next year. In a much-hyped presentation that was half neuroscience conference, half Silicon Valley spectacle, the San Francisco-based company, which Musk has invested $100 million in, revealed that it has developed tiny, thread-like implants far thinner than a human hair that are capable of recording neuron activity.
A brain-computer interface is meant to provide a direct pathway of communication between the brain and an external device. These interfaces use electrodes to “read” brain signals, plus a computer that translates these signals into commands, which carry out a desired action on a computer program or device.
Eventually, Musk sees a future in which anyone could opt in to getting one of these interfaces and achieve what he calls a “symbiosis with artificial intelligence.” Musk envisions an elective brain surgery that would be minimally invasive and take just a few hours, similar to a modern LASIK procedure. With such an interface, he says people will “have the option of merging with A.I.” — an area of particular interest for Musk, who has warned about the existential threat that ever more powerful A.I. could eventually pose to humanity.
Neuralink says that eventually its interface will allow people with disabilities to speak, hear, and see.
But the first use of the company’s technology will be far more practical: to allow people with complete paralysis from spinal cord injuries to gain “naturalistic control” of a computer, according to Neuralink researcher Philip Sabes. In a question and answer session…