Elon Musk just got a monkey to control a computer with its brain. You're next.
by Jackie A
4 months ago
Excuse me? He's now a brain surgeon too?
Not quite but he's signed up a bunch of them to his secretive company NeuraLink in a bid to connect your brain to a computer with brain-computer interfaces - BCIs. Musk made the big reveal on stage at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco last week, saying he wants to insert Bluetooth-enabled chips into our grey matter to ultimately enable telepathy - to know what each other was thinking without talking - but initially to repair motor function in people with injuries. (By implanting BCIs into a small patch of the surface level of the brain, paralysed patients are now able to move robotic limbs by simply thinking about moving their own paralysed limb - see here.)
You cannot be serious. (Hey, how can McEnroe be 60?)
Am v serious (time, whoosh, flies). We digress - Musk has applied to US regulators to start trialling his device on humans as early as next year. He also leaked the fact that NeuraLink has been testing the "interface" device on primates. "A monkey has been able to control the computer with his brain. Just, FYI.” Watch him on stage here.
Shocking suit for a man worth $20bn. So how does this "interface" work with your brain?
Fashion is not his forte. Anyway, the device consists of a tiny probe which contains more than 3,000 electrodes attached to flexible threads that are thinner than a human hair. These monitor the activity of 1,000 neurons, a tiny fraction of the 100 billion in the brain. More alarmingly, under the direction of a neurosurgeon, they're injected into the top layers of the brain via a robot that looks not unlike a giant sewing machine. These would then detect neuron activity and analyse recordings using machine learning, which would work out what type of stimulation to give a patient.
You've lost me. All I hear is a robot sewing machine drilling threads into a brain.
Initially, it's not for you. Next year's trials are “only intended for patients with serious unmet medical diseases”, said Dr Matthew McDougall, NeuraLink’s head neurosurgeon. The first trial will target patients with complete paralysis and involve installing four of Neuralink’s implants in patients’ brains. One of the messages underneath the YouTube launch vid read: "Quadriplegic and bored. Where do I sign up?" This could be life changing for those like him.
I haven't got a PHD in energy physics like Musk but I'm still not clear what he's trying to do
Ultimately, what Neuralink will be is a whole-brain BCI that can transmit signals to and receiving signals from any part of the brain. We would become cyborgs! As yet NeuraLink didn't exactly explain how the system will translate brain activity or how the device will be able to stimulate brain cells. Or how we will be able to read people's thoughts. Even Musk said: "It's not like suddenly we will have this incredible neural lace and will take over people's brains." What he did repeat more than once was: "It will take a long time."
Does this guy ever sleep? Hasn't he got an insane amount on his plate?
Yep, busy man. There's Tesla, making electric cars and trucks, power storage batteries and solar roofs, SpaceX that's launching satellites and trying to get punters into space and then there's the Boring Company, which is digging underground tunnels to get cars off the road. The last three are all works in progress.
Srsly, I fear for his own brain. I also think he can't bear that AI might ever be cleverer than him
He certainly considers AI surpassing human intelligence as an “existential threat”. Ultimately Musk envisions a future of "super-intelligence" where we all get into bed with AI. “I think this is going to be important at a civilisation-wide scale - even under a benign AI, we will be left behind. With a high bandwidth brain-machine interface, we will have the option to go along for the ride.”
He's got his Musketeer superfans but I hear not everyone was convinced with his big brain reveal
NeuraLink released a paper to coincide with the announcement, but it wasn't peer-reviewed - generally seen as a crucial part of any new scientific breakthrough. Fishy, I agree. Krittika D'Silva, an AI researcher at the Frontier Development Lab which partners with NASA highlighted the "technical and ethical challenges". No kidding. Also scientists from the University of Pennsylvania's neuroscience department tweeted that there was "nothing revolutionary" about it but conceded Musk was "on a great track".
On the right track ain't good enough when it comes to brain surgery. I'll keep my thoughts to myself, thanks.
To do this at scale, Musk foresees a future when having these devices implanted – drilling small holes in the skull – will be as simple and low-risk as laser eye surgery. "“I think we are about eight to 10 years away from this being usable by people with no disability."