Elon Musk is making good on his professed goal to merge humanity with machines. His goal is to get us there before artificial intelligence outpaces humanity. On Monday, he announced the launch of Neurolink, a venture aimed at merging our brains with technology.
Don’t forget, Elon Musk is the guy who taught himself rocket science so could create Space X. He did the same thing with battery technology for Tesla.
The man is smart, determined, capable of learning dense content. It should offer us reassurance that he is on-the-case with this issue, not waiting for someone else to solve it.
Imagining the technology which will facilitate brain-machine interaction is easy enough, but the execution is whole ‘nother disaster.
That aside, the even bigger hurdle is convincing someone to let science perform brain surgery, especially if it’s not reparative, especially if the condition it repairs isn’t life threatening.
The State of Affairs
Today’s brain hacking efforts either operate above the skin, stimulating the mind through the skull or they are experimental installations on the brain itself.
In the above-skin version, devices connect without surgery. They may or may not work as well as the manufacturers insist.
We covered the Thync wearable in the piece, Brain Hack: Energize and Relax With Thync. That device aims to calm or energize wearers. The reviews for Thync vary on effectiveness.
A more aggressive brain hack is wiring directly into the brain. It’s a multifaceted problem, starting with the complexity of stimulating neurons, but more with the tissue built up from the human body.
Foreign objects in the body attract negative attention from our defenses. Scar tissue builds up, and over time, chips that once allowed a user to, say, articulate a prosthetic limb, fail.
Then we have to remove the chip or replace it. It’s exhausting and expensive.
Brain implants are not unheard of. At present, we use this technology to control disorders like Parkinson’s, relieve pain or give amputees control of prosthetics.
We’re not hacking neural code.
It’s more than the language of the CNS, it’s the form factor we’re using to connect to that mainframe. A group of researchers at Harvard may be on to something.
Recently, Body Hacks covered research from Harvard where they are testing simple magnetic brain implants that may work better than what we’ve used in the past.
In other recent news, Musk’s mini-me, Bryan Johnson is in pursuit of the same goal as Musk, with his company, Kernal.
We talked about Kernal before this recent news broke in Neural Decoder Bryan Johnson Is The Next Elon Musk (If He Can Hack It)
One of these groups (or someone else?) will be the first wire a brain to technology, but they will first have to revolutionize our technology.
Then they will have to prove over and over in animal trials that it’s safe. It’s one thing to stuff a chip under one’s tattooed skin, but tampering with the brain is a whole new lobotomy.
To make this happen, these pioneers have to make our current brain hacking efforts look barbaric by comparison. That won’t be too hard. They are barbaric.
Neuralink (which is a great name BTW, indicative of an organization that understands the value of approachable branding) will have to make brain-hacking surgery look and feel safer than plastic surgery, safer than buying a new MacBook.
In fact, if they can make it seem like brain surgery seem like a trip to Starbucks, they’ll be golden.
They’ll also need a success rate in excess of 99.9%. The first time the press covers a patient losing his mind from an experimental brain surgery, they’ll be dead in the water… at least for a little while.
The question on the table seems a matter of when more than if. Someone will get there. Who will do it first?
Musk has more money than any of them, and a bigger network, at least for now. He’s also the guy who always does what he says he’s gonna do. If you’re a gambler, put your chips on Elon.
This show’s about to get good.