Elon Musk’s Neuralink, which is the secretive company developing brain-machine interfaces, recently showed off some of the technology it had been dreaming of to deliver to the public for the first time.
The aim is to eventually begin implanting devices in paralyzed humans, allowing them to control smartphones or computers. The proposed future technology Neuralink intends to build a module that sits outside the head and receives information wirelessly from threads embedded in the brain.
The first big advance is the flexible “threads”, which are less likely to damage the brain than the materials presently used in brain-machine interfaces. Also, these threads can build up the possibility of transferring a higher volume of data, according to a white paper credited to “Elon Musk and Neuralink”.
The abstract notes that the system could include as many as 3072 electrodes per array distributed across 96 threads. According to studies, the threads are 4 to 6 µm in width, making them considerably thinner than a human hair. In addition to this, a second big advance is a machine that automatically embeds them.
“The main reason for doing this presentation is recruiting,” said Musk, asking people to go apply to work there. Max Hodak, president of Neuralink, also came on stage and admitted that he wasn’t originally sure “this technology was a good idea,” but that Musk convinced him it would be possible.
At the end of the presentation, during a Q&A session, Musk revealed the results that the rest of the team hadn’t realized he would: “A monkey has been able to control a computer with its brain. It’s not going to be suddenly Neuralink will have this neural lace and start taking over people’s brains,” said Musk. “Ultimately” he wants “to achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence.” And that even in a “benign scenario,” humans would be “left behind.” Hence, he wants to create technology that allows a “merging with AI.” He added later “we are a brain in a vat, and that vat is our skull,” and so the aim is to read neural spikes from that brain.