If all the recent progress in Artificial Intelligence has you worried about our future robot overlords, Neuralink, the latest company to join Elon Musk’s ever-expanding stable of futuristic moonshots might allow you to breathe a sigh of relief. The company will work on developing a “Neural Lace”, a technology that would allow humans to directly interact with computers, possibly through tiny electrodes that would be implanted in the brain. Musk has repeatedly warned about the potentially devastating consequences of AI, terming it the “biggest existential threat” facing humanity. The goal of this project would be to help humans keep up with the rapid strides being made in machine intelligence.
The potential implications on human society of a neural lace are hard to conceive at this stage. Neuralink’s plans seem to focus, at least initially, on tackling crippling mental diseases like Parkinson’s. Although not widespread, electrode implants to treat such diseases are not unheard of today. However, the end goal for Neuralink would be to eventually move past diseases and edge into human enhancement, perhaps increasing our memories or allowing us to control machines with a mere thought.
Unfortunately, though the challenges associated with making this technology work are nothing short of gargantuan, the cyborg vision of the future is far from imminent. Described as being in an “embryonic” stage by one of its founders, Neuralink is not even close to any kind of usable product. All that it is known about it so far is that it has made a series of high-profile hires, poaching scientists, engineers and researchers working on various potential parts of a human-computer interface from universities and research centres across the United States.
Of course, the reason for the all excitement is less about the fact that a bunch of smart people have gathered under one roof, and more about that roof belonging to Elon Musk. The mad genius/visionary icon of our times, Musk will somehow find the time to shepherd the fledgeling company while also opening continuing his quests to open up Space colonisation, kickstarting electric cars, mainstreaming solar energy and revolutionising mass rapid transport.
He will face stiff competition in his task though. Everyone from Facebook to the United States Army is interested in developing neural interfaces and hundreds of millions of dollars are being poured into research. Regardless of the technological success of their efforts, it is hard to imagine people embracing brain surgery – a complicated and dangerous process – regardless of the potential benefits. Maybe Elon Musk, who is already constantly compared to comic book superhero Tony Stark, will lead the way by putting a chip in his own brain. If anyone needs the help of a computer brain, it is probably the man who is single-handedly trying to turn several sci-fi dreams into reality.
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Cover Image via Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance; Image Courtesy: Shutterstock.com