Elon Musk—whose ideas keep getting further and further out there—is aware of how strange his latest venture, Neuralink, sounds. "This is gonna sound pretty weird, but [we want] to achieve a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence," Musk said.
Here's how it works: A smallish chip is inserted under the skin, and it connects a wisp of microthreads to specific neural points on the brain. These threads—which each measure one tenth the diameter of a human hair—can transmit brain signals to bluetooth devices, allowing for high-bandwidth communication without so much as a blink.
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"The interface to the chip is wireless, so you have no wires poking out of your head. It basically Bluetooths to your phone," Musk said at the event, although he was being cute. Users will actually be able to interface with and update the technology from an iPhone app.
While Musk’s grand vision may lead to some final melding of humanity and AI, the brain-machine interface (BMI)—at least in the short-term—aims to make up for some of modern medicine’s shortcomings. Doctors could potentially treat serious neurological disorders by studying data from neurotransmissions and then stimulating very specific brain centers.
The implant procedure is expected to be about as traumatic as LASIK. While still conscious, mildly sedated patients will have a 2mm incision made behind the ear where the chip is inserted. The cut is so small that it can be glued shut.
Musk hopes to see implementation as soon as the end of next year. It’ll start in the medical realm, and, if things track, it'll scale and move to general use for those interested in enhancing cognitive function or interacting with technology on a heightened plane. As new versions of the technology roll out, more possibilities should open up—and with them, a new era for humanity.
Dr. Ian Malcolm's voice from Jurassic Park is still echoing: "Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should."