Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX, Tesla, and soon Neuralink.
Elon Musk is about to become a CEO of another company. Yes, the guy who’s already the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX will take on lead duty at a new company called Neuralink, which (ultimately) aims to merge the human brain with a computer.
We knew a tiny little bit about Musk’s new venture thanks to last month’s WSJ report, but now, WaitButWhy’s Tim Urban has an in-depth report on what Neuralink is about.
And we do mean in-depth. This thing is colossal, starting with a course (I wish I could say "short course" but this part of the text alone has more than 10,000 words) on the evolution of the brain and human invention culminating with the computer.
This is followed with a primer on the current state of brain-machine interfaces before the text moves on to Neuralink, with plenty of insight from Musk himself and some of the members of his new team. Read the report here if you have a few hours (bonus: there are drawings).
The short-term goal
The very, very short version of this is that Neuralink will follow Musk’s standard mode of operation when forming a new company: Set a long-term goal for the betterment of mankind, acquire some of the best talent in the field, have them first work on a sustainable business model that will later fund the project’s original goal.
The team involves some of the best scientists and engineers in several interconnected fields, coming from places such as IBM, MIT and Berkeley, each with a PhD (and in some cases an extra degree) to their name.
And the "sustainable business model" part is to "bring something to market that helps with certain severe brain injuries (stroke, cancer lesion, congenital) in about four years," Musk told WaitButWhy. So, a noble cause, but nothing very much out of the ordinary, right? Just wait.
The short-term goal is just a way to fund the long-term goal, and this is where things start to get really interesting. Musk and his think-tank do not have everything figured out just yet, but the general idea is to advance the neural implant tech while they wait until laws and regulations let them actually implant something into a healthy person’s brain. Ultimately, implants would allow for "uncompressed" communication between people, with the compression part being language. So instead of translating your thoughts into language, you can upload them directly to another person’s brain, which would increase communication speed by orders of magnitude.
This could go in (essentially) two directions: Melding brain with machine, like an artificial intelligence. Or, (and this appears to be Musk’s primary focus) vastly increasing communication speed between humans, which would allow the human race to keep up with the advent of super-powerful artificial intelligence (which Musk seems to think is inevitable or at least very probable).
This will also have vast implications on basically everything we do and everything we are. Reading someone’s thoughts instantaneously could turn humanity into one giant brain, which in turn could immeasurably speed up progress of the human race, and so forth.
Plenty of hurdles
It also sounds like hard science fiction, which is one reason why Neuralink is bracing itself to deal with a lot of skepticism. And don’t expect any of it very soon; Musk thinks we’re about a decade away from an early version of the above-described implant "being usable by people with no disability."
"I think we are about 8 to 10 years away from this being usable by people with no disability," Musk said.
The fact that Musk will become the CEO of yet another company (he recently half-jokingly announced yet another project that has to do with tunnels, and he’s also the co-chair of artificial intelligence research company OpenAI) won’t sit well with investors and shareholders at SpaceX and Tesla.
And we haven’t even scratched the surface of actual technological issues Neuralink needs to overcome, including installing (if we’re going to plug computers into our brains, installing seems a fine enough word) the neural implant in a non-invasive fashion (without surgery), as well as achieving enough bandwidth between the neural implant and the brain.
That’s a lot of hurdles in Neuralink’s future, but unlike Tesla, at least it doesn’t have a problem of stepping on the toes of a huge industry. As for Neuralink’s next steps, we won’t even pretend we know; we’ll just have to wait until Musk and his team of super-smart people tell us what they’re up to.