Hooking up your brain to a computer? What could go wrong?
Elon Musk receives a lot of coverage on this tech blog, and not without merit: He’s one of the most famous tech developers in the industry. Musk has involved himself in many great undertakings, including a faster-than-sound train and both self-driving cars and spaceships capable of traveling to Mars. Musk’s endeavors have painted him as something of a wunderkind to some (and a space alien to others), but there’s no doubt that Musk celebrates and believes in the development of technology.
Adding to his list of zealous ideas, Elon Musk is pushing a new design for interacting with our computers. His new company is called “Neuralink,” and is pushing to form a deeper connection between people and their computers. Specifically, Neuralink is working on a system that will let people directly interact with their computers–without any other physical input.
Neuralink is technically a medical research company (privately funded by Musk) that works in developing technology that might be useful in the field of medicine. As a business, Neuralink is in the working stages of something called “neural lace,” which will be the backbone of the Neuralink project. Neural lace is the tool that will allow our computers to be controlled by our mind.
The reason neural lace works is because computers and brains both run on electricity, meaning that the signals a computer can send and understand are similar in kind to the signals our brain uses. The big hurdle is how to get computers to understand our brain signals and vice versa. The neural lace is a tiny mesh electronic transmitter that gets implanted on the surface of your brain through a needle. The mesh unravels after leaving the needle and attaches to your brain which will (hopefully) accept it.
Because our brains and computers work in a similar way, the hope is that neural lace will allow people to use the electric signals in their brains to control their computer software. After all, keyboards and mice also work on electric signals for their control. Attaching the neural lace to the brain will translate the brain’s activity to language a computer can understand, and in this way learning to use a neural lace is similar to learning to walk or write. The brain needs to be trained in order to do it effectively.
Neural lace has other potential uses. Because it’s hooked up to the brain, it can be used to control artificial limbs, which can help amputees. It can also help us understand how our brains work, and help treat diseases like Alzheimers and Parkinson’s. Because the neural lace is connected to our brainwaves, it can analyze and influence the electronic stimuli in our minds, and might even be able to treat depression.
Musk hopes that the neural lace will, in the short term, treat diseases and benefit those suffering from other ailments, but in the long term, allow mankind to keep up with the increasing pace of technology. Technology is developing at an exponential rate and it’s anyone’s guess right now as to how well humanity can keep up with it. Musk hopes that in boosting the brain, people won’t be relegated to mere pets in the upcoming technological singularity.
The irony, of course, is that Elon Musk is largely responsible for our push towards future tech.