You’re on vacation in a small village in France but don’t speak a word of French.
Imagine if you could download a program into your brain and converse with locals.
And what if you could later remember that trip in perfect detail?
Elon Musk said: In the future, you will be able to save and replay memories by Neuralink
This is sounding increasingly like a Black Mirror episode.
Elon Musk says you will even be able to store your memories as a backup, and then download them into a robot body.
It sounds like science fiction but Neuralink believes it could make that happen one day with a chip.
It is a brain-machine interface or BMI – a device that connects your brain to a computer.
But before chasing these futuristic goals, the startup is focusing on one thing: ending human suffering.
All of our senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell are electrical signals sent by neurons to our brain.
But sometimes the signals are not wired correctly.
Neuralink wants to rewire the circuits, so that the paralyzed walk, the blind see, the deaf hear
as well as treat other neurological disorders such as depression, insomnia, Alzheimer’s.
The battery lasts a full day and can be charged inductively as you sleep, possibly by wearing a nightcap according to Musk,
although it may not look exactly like this one.
The prototype is different from 2019’s – that one required an external earpiece,
whereas the latest version involves just the chip sitting in the skull.
It’s like a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires.
The wires – or threads – are 10 times thinner than human hair and represent electrodes.
The electrodes figure out what’s happening in the brain by reading the signals sent by the neurons, and then stimulating as many neurons as possible.
This technology is not new but what makes Neuralink drastically different from other neural interfaces
is that it will insert significantly more electrodes to stimulate neurons on a scale never seen before.
As a comparison, Utah Array is considered one of the best BMIs out there right now and has been used to study conditions like epilepsy.
It has around 100 electrode channels whereas the current version of Neuralink has more than 1,000, and possibly much more in the future.
Also, the threads are thinner and more flexible – greatly reducing the risk of piercing blood vessels and potentially causing catastrophic damage.
But that doesn’t mean humans are capable of the precision required for surgery.
At the eventual cost of a few thousand dollars to the patient, this robot could one day do the entire operation in under an hour,
leaving the chip relatively concealed.
All you can see afterward is a tiny scar. And if it’s under your hair, you can’t see it at all.
Elon said: He could have Neuralink right now and you wouldn’t know. Maybe I do.
That’s unlikely since human trials haven’t begun. But they have done tests on animals.
So what we have in pen number 1 is Joyce.
Joyce demonstrates what a normal pig is like without Neuralink.
Dorothy used to have the device, but no longer. And she appears to act just like Joyce.
Then, there’s Gertrude, the one who’s had an implant for two months. It took her a while to get with the program.
The beauty of live demos. Gertrude, thanks for coming out.
The beeps are signals from the area of her brain linked to her snout, so when she ate or sniffed the straw, the activity showed up on the graph.
The implant has also helped the team predict the limb movements of a pig on a treadmill with what they describe as a high degree of accuracy.
But it remains to be seen how people respond to it.
Neuralink has to get a stamp of approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to start human trials
geared toward helping those with spinal cord injuries control a computer.
We’ll make this as safe as possible.
Just as with Tesla, while it is legally possible to ship a one-star car, the only cars we make are five stars.
We maximize safety and we’ll take the same approach here at Neuralink.
But there are some signs of chaos at the young company.
Former employees told Stat, an American health-oriented news website, that “rushed timelines (were often) clashing with science’s slow pace”.
Musk said last year he hoped the trials could begin by the end of 2020, which seems highly unlikely.
And then there are the privacy issues that scientists have been urging governments to address,
including what data should be collected and how it will be kept safe.
So it will likely be a long time before this becomes a reality.
But Neuralink has plans to expand rapidly.
At its headquarters in Fremont, California, it has a massive space but only 100 employees.
In a few years, it expects to grow to 10,000, which would be more than the number of staff currently at SpaceX.
Although scientists and engineers will continue to work toward curing brain disorders, that’s not the main reason Musk created Neuralink.
He has repeatedly spoken of the fear that humans will be overtaken by artificial intelligence
based on the hypothesis that if AI becomes superintelligent, it could become difficult or impossible for humans to control,
and potentially result in our extinction.
So his solution is to sync up the human brain with AI and create a symbiotic relationship.
Symbiosis refers to the art of living together.
We see this in nature, in the mutually beneficial relationship between sea anemone and clownfish, for example.
The anemone provides shelter for the fish, while the fish provides it nutrients and protects it from other predators.
In the same way, humans and AI can grow together.
Although Musk has many ambitious projects on the go, this one seems different than the others.
SpaceX wants to build a city on Mars – changing where we live.
The Boring Company is building underground tunnels – changing how we travel.
But Neuralink is changing us. Making us in many ways, superhuman.
The future going to be weird.
And that may be an understatement.