Three years ago, Elon Musk set up a company, Neuralink, with the ambitious goal of creating a brain-computer interface. This ultra-high bandwidth connection is seen by the Tesla CEO as the only solution to counter what he believes to be an existential threat to humanity. Musk was asked for an update on Twitter and provided a two-word reply: “Coming soon.”
However, there's obviously a lot of room for interpretation when it comes to the word “soon”. Everything Neuralink has been working on is under wraps and the company's website is currently just a list of job positions. The goal of the technology is also very unclear, with potential applications ranging from connecting our brains to the Internet to using artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance our cognitive abilities.
The latter idea has been discussed by Musk several times. He believes that AI's capabilities in the near future will mean humanity gets left behind. His solution sees the merging of machines and human consciousness so that humanity has an equal footing with whatever AI we might develop in the future.
Unknowns and uncertainties don't just come from Musk's company but exist in the field in general. There will be questions about both safety and security, but also ethical discussions on how we should use these technologies.
Augmenting humans with technology is not a new fad (reading glasses, anyone?), but the miniaturization of silicon chips, improvements in computing, and new materials have dramatically improved such technologies. We can control devices, and even communicate, just using our minds. The tech is predominantly used to help disabled people overcome the many barriers that continue to exist in society, but it's also used by groups of transhumanists who want to go beyond what humans can achieve.
We need to remember that the technology that underpins it all is far from ready. Reading brain signals in detail still requires surgery and the assistive technology used for brain communication is still extremely slow compared to traditional means of communication. There is a lot of research into technology and the brain with some major projects receiving investments such as the BRAIN Initiative in the US and the Human Brain Project in Europe. We might not be completely clueless about how to link computers to our bodies, but on the road to merging with AI, we've still got a very long way to go.
[H/T: The Independent]