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November 8, 2017

Everything you need to know about Neuralink: Elon Musk’s brainy new venture

by John_A

Elon Musk has no shortage of ambitious, inspiring, and downright crazy ideas. You’ve probably heard about his efforts to build reusable rockets, blanket the globe in Wi-Fi, and build a network of tunnels under LA — but one of his newest ventures, called Neuralink, is arguably one his most intriguing yet.  It’s a crazy mix of futuristic science and brain surgery, with a healthy dose of, “what does it even mean to be human?” thrown in for good measure. Here’s everything you need to know!

Neuralink sounds like something from a movie. What is Musk up to?

Neuralink is based on a very sci-fi concept: the startup wants to link your brain directly to computers and other electronic devices, preferably via cybernetic implants that allow your mind to interface with gadgets and programs.

Musk believes that brain-to-machine interfaces are an important part of humanity’s future – preferably without the dystopian tagalongs. Neuralink wants to find the best possible ways to make that mind connection possible. There’s also a more paranoid factor at work: Musk and others are worried about the impact of A.I. on the world, especially if that A.I. turns against humans. Musk would prefer that we have a more direct way to control A.I. if necessary, and would like to find a way to increase our intelligence to compete with the super smart A.I. programs of the future. If that sounds exciting to you, you can read more about it in this whitepaper.

It’s a little more than a year old. Reports started surfacing about Neuralink in 2016, and Musk’s involvement in 2017. Since then, the project has received a collection of Elon Musk tweets, it’s own Twitter feed, and a bare bones website.

What are the ultimate goals of Neuralink?

There are a number of interesting long-term goals for Neuralink – and similar projects. More specifically:

Create new implants that can be surgically inserted into the human brain: Interestingly, this technology already sort of exists. A number of different brain implants are being used to help treat blind patients, those suffering from neurological diseases, and other conditions – sometimes with surprising success. But these implants are largely autonomous. People don’t really interact with them, and they don’t give anyone extra capabilities. Obviously Neuralink is more ambitious, and the company is busy looking for better neural laces, or webs that can integrate into the brain.

Allow humans to mentally interact with the devices around them: In the lingo, these are called “BCIs” or brain-computer interfaces. The closest we’ve gotten here are advanced bionics that can interpret brains signals and allow people to control limited movements for prosthetic arms and legs. The next step is linking that technology with implants that, instead of actuating movement, can interface with other types of external software. Neuralink would love to see wearable devices that do the same thing, but the startup admits that surgery and brain implants are probably going to be a big first step.

Let humans amass data via the chip: In other words, Neuralink wants to create chips that can increase human storage and processing power. That probably requires interface technology that we aren’t even close to yet – but that’s the point of Neuralink.

Help out the medical field treat more injuries: We just talked about how most current brain implant projects are trying to help disabled people recover. This provides an ideal entry point for Neuralink to develop new technology and come up with new solutions before jumping straight into the A.I. War of 2075.

Where is Neuralink now, in the real world?

UPMC

This venture is still somewhat secretive. However, the startup did make big news when it raised $26.96 million in a funding round in late 2017. Based on the documents filed, it looks like Musk may want to raise much more money in the future, but for now he has stated that there is no active fundraising or investment action going on. However, Musk hopes to begin developing the first mind-link devices within the next several years.

Is any of this even possible?

That’s a matter of debate. Brain-computer interface technology has progressed in leaps and bounds over the past few years — but there’s still a lot of uncertainty about just how far these efforts can go. The human brain is fantastically complex, and when it comes to allowing thoughts to pass back and forth from software …well, no one is even sure where to begin. Some consider the whole idea to be far out of our reach.

I’m an engineer and this is my dream come true. Is Neuralink hiring?

Yes, the startup is looking for a limited number of engineers in all kinds of fields, particularly software and mechanical. Of course, Musk is looking for the best of the best, so you better brush up your resume.

Editors’ Recommendations

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  • A beginner’s guide to A.I. superintelligence and ‘the singularity’
  • Here’s everything you need to know about SpaceX Starlink
  • Man somehow plays sax solo following brain surgery, for science




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