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Do You Believe? Elon Musk Promises Human-to-Human Telepathy with New Company Neuralink
April 24, 2017
Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, by way of blogger and cartoonist Tim Urban, has revealed in a 36,400-word illustrated explainer the thinking behind his new company Neuralink and its mission to use brain implants to directly link human minds to computers.
The post argues that we should augment the slow, imprecise communication of our voices with a direct brain-to-computer linkup. This would permit both telepathy between people and advantageous relations with artificial intelligence, says Musk.
Musk even gives a time line. He says that within eight to 10 years healthy people could be getting brain implants as new computer interfaces.
And I say it’s not going to happen.
The problem with the post is that, despite its length, Musk does not reveal how he’s going to do it. Between today’s relatively crude ways of recording the brain and what Urban calls a mental “wizard’s hat” is just a dotted line.
Musk is not alone in his ambitions. Last week Facebook, in its own surreal attempt to grab attention, put ex-DARPA boss Regina Dugan on stage with the claim that inside of two years the social network will have a skullcap able to transmit sentences out of your brain at a rate of 100 words per minute. In Facebook’s case the cap would be meant to help you “share” your thoughts. In Musk’s vision, it is actually a bunch of electrodes inside your brain to enable humans to merge with artificial intelligence. Think about how Google fills in suggestions on what you are searching for. Musk is proposing that the same kind of thing should occur in real time, inside your head.
It’s not possible to assert that no future technology can make these things happen. But from what I know about brain implants, these achievements will be very difficult to attain, and the time lines are not only wrong—they’re pure malarkey.
Let’s deal with Musk’s time line first. A brain implant is a medical device that requires neurosurgery. Proving that it works requires a stepwise series of experiments that each takes years, starting in rats or monkeys.
Here’s a time line from the real world: a company called NeuroPace was started in 1997 to develop an implant that controls epileptic seizures. It actually senses a seizure coming and zaps your brain to stop it. The device got approved in 2013—16 years later. And that was for a very serious medical condition in which brain surgery is common.
Putting an implant in healthy people? That would require extraordinary evidence of safety. And that’s hard to picture, because as soon as you open someone’s head you put that person’s life at risk. We at MIT Technology Review know of only one case of a healthy person getting a brain implant: a crazy stunt undertaken in Central America by a scientist trying to do research on himself. It caused life-threatening complications.
by: Antonio Regalado