Imagine someone who is blind for life gets an option to plug in tiny electrodes into their brain so that they can see again. Elon Musk’s newest venture Neuralink promises to bring a future where you can have a device that when plugged into the brain can control robotic arms, can write into a text editor and maybe solve vision for blind people.
For anyone who follows Elon Musk knows that his ventures are not for the weak-hearted. Digging tunnels through cities, sending rockets to Mars, building houses with solar roofs and other endeavours that can’t be accomplished by an ordinary human being even in one whole life has been done by Musk quite effortlessly. But Musk’s latest obsession, if possible, is even more ambitious. Musk wants humans to merge with artificial intelligence as a protective measure when AI starts ruling the world.
As a precursor to solving the merging problem, Musk and his team at Neuralink will have to solve other problems on the way. These side family of problems fall in the realm of information theory, machine learning, precision robotics, metallurgy, chip design and other varied fields. In the process of having our brain connected to outside devices, the team at Neuralink aim to find solutions to other problems like nerve-related diseases and gain more insight into how the brain functions.
At the best Neuralink will change our future and the worst it will give us insights into how our brain functions using smart electrodes (if no one is harmed during the testing).
Hiring For The Mission
Neuralink today hosted a presentation on Youtube to introduce the company and its mission to the world. Musk started the session with a message that the main function of the live presentation was to hire the best in the field. Musk wants to attract prolific people to advance the brain-computer interface technology forward. While talking about the most fundamental motivations of Neuralink, Musk said that treating brain disorders is important to ensure a healthy life for all. Apart from treating brain disorders, enhancing brain capacity will be another important mission of the company.
Musk continued to state that, “This is going to sound a little weird. But ultimately (we want to) achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence.” The technology built by Neuralink will mostly have a goal to build a highway from your brain to other external devices to transfer and make sense of information that will be produced by the neurons.
Neuralink works with a thread that goes into a human’s skull and reads activities from the neurons. These activities are transferred to a chip that will process the information. The thread that goes inside your brain, which will be produced by Neuralink is supposed to be 1/10th the width of human hair. Hence unlike other brain surgeries, the insertion by Neuralink will leave no scars and will be safe.
Neuralink plans to build dense and small sensors that can do more than any other device in the past. This helps them to create rich visuals for the blind. Recording signals from the brain and stimulating them can also help in curing many diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Epilepsy and others.
Next Chapter Of Science And Technology
Neuralink’s President Max Hodak talked about the importance of information theory and how it applies to the field of brain-machine interface. Hodak underlined that the work done by Neuralink has been done standing on the shoulders of many giants who worked in the field from the 1950s. Neuralink though should be credited for bringing back the field of brain interfaces back in vogue. Whenever Silicon Valley takes up a cause, it promises to garner some spotlight.
The team at Neuralink are a testimony to the attention that the field has got. Scientists and entrepreneurs who were working on important questions mostly in obscurity are now leading a much talked about the medical and technological revolution which is looked by the world because of the publicity provided by Musk.
Hodak also went onto underline that the device created by Neuralink will be with humans for decades, will be wireless and most importantly have practical bandwidth.
Muskian Timelines And Targets
Like any other Musk enterprise, Neuralink also has aggressive targets. The company will have to adhere to FDA guidelines but aim to start clinical trials by 2020. This means many first time patients and users will be able to experience Neuralink’s products as early as next year.
During the Q and A, President Hodar also talked about providing brain enabled APIs for developers to work on and hinted that it can turn into a platform. Musk said the cost of these devices is a very important detail and the team is working actively on making the economics of the product to work out.
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As a thorough data geek, most of Abhijeet's day is spent in building and writing about intelligent systems. He also has deep interests in philosophy, economics and literature.