by Ken Wieland
19 July 2019
LONDON — Human brains hooked up to computers and AI. This was the vision that tech entrepreneur Elon Musk presented at an event in San Francisco as he gave an update on what neurotechnology start-up Neuralink has been up to over the last two years.
Backed by Musk, Neuralink has kept a low profile since it was founded in 2017. The unveiling of polymer threads a hundred times thinner than a human hair, which can be drilled into the skull by a special robotic machine and connect to a tiny processor implanted into the brain, is the start-up’s first major announcement. These threads, said Musk, are designed to link a human brain wirelessly to a computer or even smartphone. Tests are already underway, apparently, using rats.
The chip will help “preserve and enhance your own brain”, said Musk, “and ultimately achieve a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence”.
One of the big problems of interacting with AI, added Musk, was bandwidth. His aim is to enable humans to more quickly communicate with machines directly from their brains.
Among the first possible applications is to assist paraplegic people using their smartphone or computer, or to treat epilepsy and even Parkinson’s disease. Another idea is to provide “rich visual feedback to the blind”.
Neuralink’s first human clinical trials are expected for next year, but the idea of having a fully working neural interface that connects computers to the brain — a “merger with AI” as Musk likes to put it — is still a long way off.