Elon Musk, the Internet's favorite rich guy, has broken his silence on the latest developments of Neuralink, the neurotechnology startup hoping to create an interface between humans and computers.
Speaking at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco on Tuesday evening, Musk revealed they have tested out an implant that allows a monkey to control a computer with its brain. They have also approached US regulators to obtain approval for trials of the device on humans.
“This is a sensitive subject, but we definitely need to address the elephant in the room, the monkey in the room,” Musk said to the crowd during the talk's Q&A session.
“A monkey has been able to control the computer with his brain. Just, y'know, FYI.”
As Musk explains, humans already interface with digital systems when we use a smartphone or laptop. However, the input is achieved through the tapping of our fingers and thumbs, meaning the flow of information is relatively slow. This implant hopes to create a near-instantaneous interface between a digital system and the brain, to the extent where the computer becomes a seamless extension of our own cognition.
A live stream of the Neuralink talk, which begins at 1:30:00. Neuralink/YouTube
The device consists of a tiny probe of ultrathin flexible threads, thinner than a human hair, which can detect the activity of neurons and effectively “read” the brain, albeit a very tiny part of it.
They have even developed a robot that is able to implant the device into animals, primarily rats, under the supervision of a neurosurgeon. According to a white paper about the project, which has not been independently peer-reviewed, at least 19 surgeries on rodents have been carried out by the robot with an 87 percent success rate.
It certainly all sounds very exciting, but there are still countless hurdles and problems to overcome before this becomes a reality. Neuralink executives told The New York Times they know they have a “long way to go” before the project has real practical uses.
Eventually, Neuralink hopes to be used to treat an array of brain injuries and diseases, including everything from paralysis to Alzheimer’s.
In the longer term, it also hopes to ward off the “existential threat of AI,” in the words of Musk. The theory goes that a seamless human-computer interface would give humanity the option of buddying up with AI, as opposed to becoming its radically inferior distraction.
"Ultimately, we could do a full brain-machine interface, meaning – [sic] this is going to sound pretty weird but – we can achieve a kind of symbiosis with artificial intelligence,” Musk told the crowd at the event.
“I think this is going to be important at a civilization-wide scale,” he added. “Even under a benign AI, we will be left behind. With a high bandwidth brain-machine interface, we will have the option to go along for the ride.”