Could we one day fuse the human brain with computers? Elon Musk thinks so.
Man and machine. Flesh and steel. The idea of merging the human brain with artificial intelligence and computers is the stuff of science fiction, but that’s exactly what Elon Musk wants to do with Neuralink, a company he founded that could change what we think the human brain is capable of.
Maybe this isn’t surprising at all. After all, this is the same man who wants to colonize Mars, commercialize space fight, and even create an elaborate underground trafic system.
Truly organic brain-computer interfaces are the stuff of science fiction, but when many of Musk’s ideas appear culled from literary imaginations, it’s clear that the limits of existing technology haven’t given him pause at all.
What Neuralink is proposing is a direct reference to something called a “neural lace,” a term coined by British author Iain M. Banks for his Culture series of novels. In those books, characters grow a semiorganic mesh on their cerebral cortexes that function as a wireless brain-computer interface, which also lets them create backups of their consciousness.
As it turns out, this idea may not be as far-fetched as it seems. In 2015, a group of researchers published a paper in the journal Nature Nano technology that detailed an ultra-fine mesh that could merge with the brain to create an interface between machine and brain matter.
The device was injected with a syringe, and the researchers successfully tested it on mice. The mouse brain cells even grew around the mesh and formed connections with the wires, effectively embracing rather than rejecting it.
Neuralink’s goal is to implant tiny electrodes in the brain that may one day “upload and download thoughts,” which could allow for more natural and intuitive interactions with computers and software.
The initial devices are likely to be more realistic things like implants for treating epilepsy and depression, but the underlying motivation behind Neuralink is far more strategic. Musk has long been concerned about AI, and he thinks that a successful brain-computer interface could help us keep up with super-smart intelligences.
“The benign situation with ultraintelligent AI is that we would be so far below in intelligence we’d be like a pet, or a house cat,” Musk said at a conference. “I don’t love the idea of being a house cat.”