Neuralink – How It Will Solve Every Problem: What if you could connect your brain directly to the Internet? Imagine immediately gaming, watching videos, or eating entire books without the need for a screen.
This bold new vision is being dreamed up at the San Francisco offices of Neuralink, the controversial new venture of billionaire polymath Elon Musk. But what exactly is Neuralink, how does it work, and what are the real-world implications of this psychic sci-fi?
Join us today as we put on our thinking caps and learn the secrets of Elon Musk’s new mind-control device. The first thing you should know is that tech giant Elon Musk is intimidated by the rise of AI or artificial intelligence.
‘AI is overlooked by very smart people,’ he has said before. This is because, in his view, ‘…very smart people don’t think computers can ever be as smart as they are’. ‘This is arrogance, and is clearly false.’
Musk’s main concern is that left unchecked, artificial intelligence will rapidly evolve beyond humanity’s ability to manage and regulate it. Then, he frets, at some inadvertent moment, man will become a mere nuisance to him. And it will expel us without hesitation or remorse.
Musk’s plan for dealing with this existential threat is twofold. In 2015 he founded OpenAI, a non-profit consultancy dedicated to researching AI and intelligent legislative oversight he thinks the industry desperately needs.
And in 2016 he also founded Neuralink. In Musk’s eyes, it is not humanity’s raw intellectual horsepower that is affecting our ability to take on the Robot Master race.
The human mind is agile enough to achieve. Instead, the problem is what Musk colorfully refers to as our human bandwidth. Whether you’re reading a Wikipedia article or listening to some fascinating urban storyteller on a YouTube video, information is entering your brain at a leisurely pace of about three to five words per second.
This is pretty lame from a bandwidth point of view. Of course, computers can digest an entire bookshelf in a fraction of the time, which puts the human race at a pretty obvious disadvantage.
Enter Neuralink, which plans to increase our bandwidth with a little help from a discreet, coin-sized intracranial device. And to do that, Neuralink has to learn to read minds. See here how it works.
Every time your brain performs a task, nerve cells called neurons interact with each other known as synapses.
Everything your brain does, from raising your right hand to processing the words I’m just saying, involves the firing of specific synapses from specific neurons. Neuralink’s nifty includes more than a thousand tiny electrodes, each only one-tenth the width of a human hair.
These electrodes are propelled into your brain tissue, passing close enough to those dirty neurons to hear their activity. This activity is directly insured on an external device, which is most likely to fit over your ear.
From there, sophisticated algorithms interpret exactly what you’re thinking of at any given time. Here’s the really ambitious bit. Musk and his team believe they may be sending traffic the other way as well, by transmitting the information back to your brain via an intracranial device.
To date, the company has set relatively modest goals for monitoring and interpreting brain activity in non-human mammals. Take Gertrude, the pig, which was implanted with a Neuralink device to help researchers track which neurons were fired whenever its muzzle was affectionately stroked.
More famously, pager The Monkey recently went viral when Nerulink posted a video of him successfully playing the retro video game Pong, using the power of his beloved monkey mind.
Pager started out by playing pong the old-fashioned way with a regular joystick. Neuralink studied which neurons are activated whenever the pager moves the joystick up, and which neurons are activated when the joystick is moved down.
From there, it was relatively simple for the Neuralink team to read those firing synapses and transmit that information directly from the pager’s mind to the console, in real-time, without a joystick.
Very good. Neuralink’s next move is to install its intracranial device in a paraplegic human test subject. It is hoped that this technology could enable people with paralysis to access the Internet without the need for their fingers, or clumsy voice control.
Plus, Musk says, it can help combat other problems, from addiction to blindness. If this all sounds like a somewhat utopian sci-fi plot — Neuralink was inspired by Musk after reading a series of Ian M. Banks novels called The Culture — just wait until you don’t. Hear how it is inserted into your scalp.
The tiny fibrils we mentioned earlier are too fiddly for a regular human doctor to rely on. So Neuralink developed a $20 million robotic neurosurgeon to install those impossibly tiny fibers in your noggin in a manner described as a sewing machine.
Naturally, it is important that the robotic surgeon manages this without damaging anything important or causing unnecessary blood loss. This clearly means that the company has to clear some high regulatory hurdles before going into the market.
As Musk himself has said, ‘Getting FDA approval for any kind of implantable devices is very difficult… it will be a slow process.’
The benefits of Neuralink would be astonishing. Apart from small applications like shopping online or checking football scores in the privacy of your mind, the power of having access to the entire Internet could revolutionize human creativity.
Still, critics have their doubts. For starters, artificial implants anywhere in the body can and often do cause unexpected rejection reactions. That’s probably not something you want on the inside of your skull.
Neuralink engineers also need to ensure that their device, and in particular the wee fibers, are capable of resisting corrosion in the moist, shiny intracranial cavity.
There is a real danger of malfunctions, or computer viruses, or even malicious hackers. No one wants to deal with a phishing scam happening within the confines of their skull.
Not to mention the labyrinthine ethical and ethical implications inherent in this technique, completely separate from the point of animal testing. If a device can read your thoughts, translate them and transmit them to another Neuralink device, isn’t that telepathy?
How will this affect society, and how do we live and interact with each other? What does consent mean in this unprecedented framework? Musk, for his part, is particularly excited about Neuralink’s potential to extend our lives, referring to its new brainchild as the ‘Fitbit for skulls’.
He even said that human testing could be on the horizon as the tail end of 2021 – but keep in mind that they have a reputation for crazy exaggerated timing. Certainly, Musk’s nearly unlimited financial resources are attracting top neuroscience talent to the team, and the firm’s report suggests that none of the tools are too expensive to meet the CEO’s ambitious deadline.
After all, if we’re really going to defeat the machines, maybe quick thinking is the only way. what do you think Are you excited to go online without the need for a cumbersome screen? Or will intracranial devices turn us into a race of benign cyborg zombies? Tell us in the comments.
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