Elon Musk's latest venture is to create a brain machine that will interface with the human brain. The new Musk company - called Neuralink - is likely to be something you hear a lot about over the next few years and it pursues its aim of bringing brains and computers closer together.
You'll know Elon Musk as the CEO and founder of Tesla and Space X, dubbed the real-life Tony Stark, a character who doesn't back away from scientific of technological challenges. That's going to shine a light on Neuralink, a company that's actively recruiting, looking to bring in the best people to work on this brain machine.
Founded two years ago by Musk, the company which has been in "stealth mode" since its inception in 2017, took to Twitter to detail that it was planning an event on Tuesday 16 July to "share a bit" about what it's "been working on the last two years". The presentation was livestreamed on YouTube, the action starting at about 1:30 in the video below.
Details on the company's website merely states that: "Neuralink is developing ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers."
The rest of the site details job openings from accountants to talent acquisition suggesting the company is "looking for exceptional engineers and scientists," and that "No neuroscience experience is required." That very much echoes the message from the event with Musk saying that it was partly about recruitment.
In 2018 Musk appeared on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. In the now infamous episode, Musk detailed that Neuralink was a product that would allow humans to effectively merge with artificial intelligence to help fight the rise of AI in general by machines.
That's now been revealed. Neuralink is designed to bridge the gap between a brain and a computer, implanting tiny wires packed with sensors to detect brain activity in a much more detailed way than anything currently available. The wires would pass the information to an external unit that could transmit to a computer, where the data can be used.
In the presentation it was also revealed that Neuralink has built a robot that neurosurgeons could use to implant the tiny wires into the patient's brain.
The ultimate goal is to radically increase the "bandwidth" between humans and technology. Musk described it as a third layer, saying that it already exists in the form of smartphones - but that output was very slow, because you have to type everything with your thumbs. Neuralink wants to skip over that step to create a symbiosis between brain and technology.
Several websites reported in 2018 that Neuralink had sought to open an animal testing facility in San Francisco, but that it ultimately settled to work with UC Davis's National Primate Center to conduct research on its behalf. Musk said that he had to address "the monkey in the room" - perhaps going a little off script - but did reveal that a monkey fitted with Neuralink has been able to operate a computer.
Musk said that some of what Neuralink wants to do is provide this interface for the treatment or management of brain conditions, allowing the greater gathering of data and potentially identifying what's going on. It should, for example, enable someone to communicate through a computer by thinking. It's these applications that are likely to see Neuralink get started.
But the applications potentially go much further, allowing that seamless link between a person's brain and other information. It might allow the addition of extra languages or information, something that's pulled from a sci-fi vision of the future.
Much of what was revealed aligned with in an in-depth article by Tim Urban on a site called Wait But Why. In 2017 Urban wrote a series of interviews with Musk about his various companies, one of which was a closer look at Neuralink at its starting point.
The post, which is some 35,000 words long, tries to set the scene and explain at the same time what Musk is trying to achieve with Neuralink, something Urban called the Wizard Era, and the device that Neuralink is making, the Wizards Hat, for a lack of a tangible product to reference.
According to Urban:
"Elon's vision for the Wizard Era is that among the Wizard Hat's many uses, one of its core purposes will be to serve as the interface between your brain and a cloud-based customized AI system. That AI system, he believes, will become as present a character in your mind as your monkey and your human characters—and it will feel like you every bit as much as the others do. He says:
'I think that, conceivably, there's a way for there to be a tertiary layer that feels like it's part of you. It's not something that you offload to, it's you.'
This makes sense on paper. You do most of your "thinking" with your cortex, but then when you get hungry, you don't say, "My limbic system is hungry," you say, "I'm hungry." Likewise, Elon thinks, when you're trying to figure out the solution to a problem and your AI comes up with the answer, you won't say, "My AI got it," you'll say, "Aha! I got it." When your limbic system wants to procrastinate and your cortex wants to work, a situation I might be familiar with, it doesn't feel like you're arguing with some external being, it feels like a singular you is struggling to be disciplined.
Likewise, when you think up a strategy at work and your AI disagrees, that'll be a genuine disagreement and a debate will ensue—but it will feel like an internal debate, not a debate between you and someone else that just happens to take place in your thoughts. The debate will feel like thinking."
He goes on to add:
"He [Elon] started Neuralink to accelerate our pace into the Wizard Era - into a world where he says that "everyone who wants to have this AI extension of themselves could have one, so there would be billions of individual human-AI symbiotes who, collectively, make decisions about the future." A world where AI really could be of the people, by the people, for the people.
Neuralink is certainly a company to watch.