Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk is launching a new company called “Neuralink” with the intention of connecting computers directly to human brains, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. It reported that the billionaire entrepreneur, whose other interests include sending humans to Mars, is exploring “neural lace” technology – the implanting of tiny electrodes into the brain that could be used to give direct computing capabilities.
Musk has not officially announced the new company but after the Journal’s report he tweeted confirming more news of Neuralink would come out next week. He has previously talked about neural laces as something that “somebody’s got to do”, adding: “If somebody doesn’t do it, then I think I should do it.”
Musk first described the potential product at Vox Media’s Code Conference in 2016, saying it would allow humans to achieve “symbiosis” with machines. He said the “neural lace” could prevent people from becoming “house cats” to artificial intelligence. “I don’t love the idea of being a house cat, but what’s the solution? I think one of the solutions that seem maybe the best is to add an AI layer,” Musk said at the Conference. “A third, digital layer that could work well and symbotically.”
More recently, Musk told a crowd in Dubai, “Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence.” He added that “it’s mostly about the bandwidth, the speed of the connection between your brain and the digital version of yourself, particularly output.”
These types of brain-computer interfaces exist today only in science fiction. In the medical realm, electrode arrays and other implants have been used to help ameliorate the effects of Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and other neurodegenerative diseases. However, very few people on the planet have complex implants placed inside their skulls, while the number of patients with very basic stimulating devices number only in the tens of thousands. This is partly because it is incredibly dangerous and invasive to operate on the human brain, and only those who have exhausted every other medical option choose to undergo such surgery as a last resort.
Neuralink was registered in California as a “medical research” company last July, and the Journal reported Musk plans on funding the company mostly by himself. Musk also plans to launch the Boring Company, a tunnel venture dedicated to building an underground transportation network to reduce traffic.
Facebook is also exploring similar technology through its secretive hardware division Building 8. The group is developing non-invasive, brain-computer interface technology that would allow people to communicate with external hardware devices.