Elon Musk, best known for Tesla, Space X, and Open AI, also has a company called Neuralink which works on developing brain computer interfaces.
An interface is a connection between a person and a computer like a keypad or touchscreen or when we use a mouse to control a computer screen. It’s been reported that Neuralink is a very secretive company but Elon Musk recently gave a big presentation to show off some of Neuralink’s revolutionary technology.
By way of background there’s already been a person with spinal cord paralysis who received a brain implant and was able to control a computer cursor to play a game using his thoughts. Another patient also with a brain implant was able to move a robotic arm in a limited fashion.
The Neuralink device represents a substantial advance over this older technology because it allows people to communicate more quickly with computers directly from the brain. Multiple flexible threads, each one much thinner than a human hair, are surgically inserted into the brain with very little damage but with the ability to transfer enormous amounts of data. Right now the implant connects to a computer via a USB cable, but a sensor is being developed that would sit behind a person’s ear to transmit information from the brain threads to the computer wirelessly. The idea is for paralyzed patients to use this interface to control phones or computers with their thoughts. These threads are so flexible many more can be inserted in the brain but their flexibility also make them more difficult to implant.
So Neuralink’s second big advance was to invent a neurosurgical robot that can insert the threads automatically, up to 6 threads with 192 electrodes per minute, which allows for an ultra high bandwidth brain computer interface. As Musk explained everything you perceive, feel, hear, think, it’s all impulses from neurons and these flexible threads can record from and selectively stimulate many, many neurons across diverse brain areas.
In the short term the goal is to treat serious chronic brain diseases and brain damage caused by strokes and trauma. But Musk has an even greater long term goal: to have humans merge with artificial intelligence which he feels is necessary to keep us from becoming irrelevant as AI rapidly advances. His response to why he founded Neuralink is “the existential risk is too high not to.”