Cyborgs are supposed to be something that exists in another realm—as in, science fiction. Then you have Elon Musk and his brainchild Neuralink.
Musk just revealed his latest plans for the company, which he created to revolutionize the way we treat neurological diseases and, eventually, give the human brain an assist with advanced technology. The space and tech mogul is now aspiring to go even further and create a full brain-machine interface that will merge our brains with AI. If we can’t keep up with artificial intelligence, we might as well become it, right?
Oh, and human trials for the first phase are supposed to start next year.
“This is going to sound pretty weird, but [we want to] achieve a sort of symbiosis with AI,” Musk said in at Neuralink’s recent launch event. “But I think with a high-bandwidth brain-machine interface we can actually go along for the ride and we can effectively have the option of merging with AI. This is extremely important.”
Your brain has nearly 100 billion neurons. These cells communicate with neurotransmitters, chemical signals that fire in response to an electrical spike otherwise known as an action potential. Because neurons represent information through rate statistics and timing of spikes, Musk wants to use electrodes implanted by a robot to selectively stimulate and record from as many neurons as possible throughout the brain.
If that sounds terrifying, he promises it will be no scarier than LASIK.
Electrodes will be attached to a battery-powered device called the Link, which is wearable behind the ear, equipped with a Bluetooth radio and controlled by a smartphone app. This could be the answer to reversing symptoms of Parkinson’s, epilepsy and other conditions caused by neural communication breakdown. If a patient who suffered a debilitating stroke is unable to use a keyboard, the device will make it as easy as thinking of what to type.
Neuralink could mean unprecedented breakthroughs for the treatment of debilitating neurological conditions. The hard questions start to surface when this futuretech ventures into the territory of turning normal brains into superhuman ones. While Musk said he wanted to make it available to anyone, cost and choice will inevitably factor in. Not everyone can afford to be turned into a cyborg. Even those who can may not want to.
As Emma Newman warned in her novel Before Mars, making computer-brain mergers the norm could create a permanent rift between the modified and un-modified, whether those without the interface choose not to be part of a neural network or are just unable to afford it. Newman’s dystopian future is one where corporations and even governments could eventually require it for all employees and citizens. Object and you end up fired or exiled.
At least for now, Neuralink seems to be a positive force for those who suffer from brain conditions and the neurosurgeons who treat them. Whether or not we will see a cyborg future is still too far out on the horizon.