June 2, 2017
If the current trend in technology is wearable tech, Elon Musk has founded the company to take this trend another step forward. Neuralink is a technology startup, founded by Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, which intends to develop a brain-machine interface. As the name implies, this will allow users to interact with technology using only their brains.
It sounds too sci-fi to be true, but in the next 8 – 10 years, Musk intends for this revolutionary product to be in the hands of consumers. Beyond virtual and augmented reality, Neuralink wants to merge the physical and virtual into the same experience.
Modern Day Neural Implants and Neuralink’s First Steps
The type of connection Neuralink hopes to achieve has never been done before, not even close. The closest parallel to this product would be medical implants designed to help patients with symptoms of Parkinson’s, epilepsy, or other neurological diseases. However, the number of actual implants in use in the general populace is very small. Neuralink’s first objective is to exceed the advances made in this area. They want to develop an implantable brain chip that can further assist individuals with neurodegenerative disorders.
Musk estimates that they can bring this device to market in four short years, but this is not the true goal of the company. The medical brain implant would be best characterized as a test product while the company develops the neural technology needed to achieve their real goal.
The real meat of the organization is in their loftier goals. Beyond medical applications, Neuralink hopes to develop an implant to facilitate consensual telepathy. Essentially, two individuals possessing the necessary implants will be able to connect and share information without actually verbalizing anything. Traditional speech would become completely unnecessary as these individuals would be able to communicate as quickly as they could think. Musk describes his vision as something almost indescribable. It would be a communicative experience unlike anything we’ve ever done before.
Furthermore, the neural interface would also allow individuals to connect to smartphones, the cloud, laptops and interact with this wide array of devices. Musk characterized it as being so effortless it would feel similar to the internal monologue we already hear inside our own heads.
Neuralink and AI — A Symbiotic Relationship
Musk has also stated that Neuralink hopes to prevent A.I. from becoming “the other.” He’s specifically referring to the rogue A.I. nightmare scenarios of The Matrix or Terminator in which A.I. has used its superior processing power and technology to dominate organic life.
This too may seem like it is straight out of a science fiction film (and really, it is), but the concern is shared by many prominent technologists, philosophers, and intellectuals today. Writing for Edge, Neuroscientist Sam Harris characterized the situation as such,
“…because [artificial intelligence] functions on a digital timescale, it runs a million times faster than the minds that built it. Set it humming for a week, and it would perform 20,000 years of human-level intellectual work. What are the chances that such an entity would remain content to take direction from us? And how could we confidently predict the thoughts and actions of an autonomous agent that sees more deeply into the past, present, and future than we do?”
By integrating technology with the human brain, Musk hopes to avoid such a scenario. In Musk’s vision of the future, A.I. is not a tool used by humans. It will be part of us, part of our being. With Harris’ quote in mind, you can see why Musk wrote on his blog, “We’re going to have the choice of either being left behind and being effectively useless or like a pet — you know, like a house cat or something — or eventually figuring out some way to be symbiotic and merge with AI.”
Neuralink is an attempt to avoid this fate.
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