WATCH| How much of a moonshot is Elon Musk's Neuralink?
Ring up another existentially urgent tech company for Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk. The latest venture from the billionaire, called Neuralink, has a mission to develop brain-implant tech ("neural lace") that allows humans to upload and download thoughts for more efficient communication. The idea, Musk has said, is to merge "biological ... and digital intelligence," in order to avoid the "dangerous situation" of AI eventually outsmarting humans.
So, how ambitious is Neuralink, and far along is brain-computer interface tech today?
Stanford earlier this year announced it had developed and tested a brain-computer interface that allows disabled patients to “type” without a keyboard, mouse or touch screen.
The bio-hardware behind the project is a small silicon brain implant that detects electrical activity from individual brain cells. The information it takes in can be translated into computer information that tells an on-screen text-selection cursor what to do.
Stanford researches said their system helped participants type as fast as eight words-per-minute.
"The interface that you could control with these decoded neural signals is really manyfold ... a robotic arm ... open and close doors remotely."
—Krishna Shenoy, Professor of Engineering, Stanford
New York company Neuromatters is developing a less invasive brain cap-like tech that uses thought patterns to control games and record brain responses to movies and advertisements .
"We have a video game similar to Mario Kart, and you use your brain-computer interface system when you're selecting the power-up ... you just say 'there' in your mind," a software engineer for the company explained to Circa during a demo.
The team at Neuromatters puts Circa's Dan Bean in a brain cap.
The projects from Stanford and Neuromatters show proof that the human brain is tappable, but neither does quite what Musk’s new company is set out to: make human-to-human and human-to-machine communication more efficient.
Luckily, more firepower for that mission is coming from Bryan Johnson, co-founder of Braintree. His new startup, Kernel, is also centered around neurotechnology, with a likeminded goal of combining human and artificial intelligence.
Neuralink and Kernel will both begin their research in medical, the Wall Street Journal has reported, and eventually work toward applications for augmenting general brain-machine communication.
So the journey to full cyber-human mind meld may not be an immediate one, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be a lot of positive things done in the field, from Musk and others, between now and then.
"Plugging electrodes into your brain like 'Matrix' the movie -- that's not going to happen for a long time ... we're focused on what we can do today."
—Lucas Parra, co-founder of Neuromatters