More details are emerging abaout Elon Musk’s dream of plugging the human brain into the internet. The Silicon Valley megastar and billionaire, whose other projects include Tesla and Space X, says that his new company Neuralink will be able to help people with severe brain injuries.
The company’s website gives little away, but says that its goal is to develop “ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers”. It is hiring a wide of “exceptional engineers and scientists” with talent and drive.
"The first use of the technology will be to repair brain injuries as a result of stroke or cutting out a cancer lesion, where somebody’s fundamentally lost a certain cognitive element," Musk told website Wait But Why . "It could help with people who are quadriplegics or paraplegics by providing a neural shunt from the motor cortex down to where the muscles are activated."
However, Neuralink’s ultimate ambitions are far more ambitious. Its goal is a “whole brain interface”, a network of tiny electrodes linked to your brain which will communicate with the internet without the need for written or spoken language. Although Musk has mused about the idea of neural-lace, he is also considering other technologies.
If this neuro-revolution is successful, it could be the most disruptive technology ever. As Christopher Markou, of the University of Cambridge, writes in The Conversation:
A whole-brain interface would give your brain the ability to communicate wirelessly with the cloud, with computers, and with the brains of anyone who has a similar interface in their head. This flow of information between your brain and the outside world would be so easy it would feel the same as your thoughts do right now.
However, there are gigantic problems to work through, Markou points out:
Medical ethics: How would we test such a device? “This would be elective surgery on (presumably) healthy people for non-medical purposes. Right there, we’re in a completely different ball park, both legally and ethically.”
Brain security: “If we’ve learned one thing from this era of “smart” everything, it’s that “smart” means exploitable. Whether it’s your fridge, your TV, your car, or your insulin pump, once you connect something to something else you’ve just opened up a means for it to be compromised.”
Regulation: Markou points out that governments and companies would be eager to “to tap into the very biological core of our cognition to use it as a means of thwarting evildoers and selling you stuff”.
Control: what if brain implant became mandatory as a way of extending government control over the whole population?
And Elon Musk is not the only Silicon Valley eminence who is trying to link the brain with computers. Last month Facebook confirmed that it is working on “optical neuro-imaging systems” which would allow people to type directly from their brains at a rate of 100 words a minute. Regina Dugan, head of the Facebook's experimental technologies division, told a conference that people speaking langueages as different as Mandarin and English might be able to share their thoughts directly.
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