Neuralink, a start-up that counts Elon Musk among its investors, has unveiled the first of the line of microscopic brain implants it has been developing since 2017. The ultimate goal for future generations of the implants is to combine the human mind with the computing power of AI. Speaking at the California Academy of Sciences on Tuesday, Musk told the audience that the secretive company is currently recruiting ‘the best talent in the world’ to add to its 100-strong team.
Musk has for some time voiced the personal fear that humanity is at risk of being overtaken by AI. He believes that the answer is to combine the unique advantages and qualities of the human brain with the storage, processing and analytical power of AI.
Neuralink hopes that it can conduct its first clinical trials with the chips at some point next year. A less sci-fi ambition for the first generations of the implants is that they will help in the treatment of neurological diseases. It is hoped that the implants will help sufferers of neurological diseases communicate with tiny machines through only thoughts. This could help restore motor and sensory functions lost as a result of diseases. An example would be restoring sight to the blind. Neuralink also displayed a new 4mm sensor, called the N1, which it hopes to implant into the brain to connect to a device a person would wear behind the ear.
The company’s president Max Hodak has cautioned that the path to implants that can have a real impact for recipients will be many years. Regulatory approval by the FDA still hasn’t been pursued and it will be some time before it is. Outside academic help will also almost certainly be required. However, initial experiments and growing understanding of how our brains work should eventually pave the way for human-machine hybrids. In the foreseeable future the interaction between brain and implants will be medical and a bridge over broken neurological pathways destroyed by brain diseases. However, beyond that it could be cyborgs…