Elon Musk Wants to Merge Humans with Artificial Intelligence
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Elon Musk Wants to Merge Humans with Artificial Intelligence

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By Duncan Nielsen
Elon Musk’s Neuralink has created a new brain chip to help us make “better connections to the world, to ourselves, and to each other.”

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. 

The tiny chip is connected to microthreads that transmit neurological information.

The tiny chip is connected to microthreads that transmit neurological information.

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The behind-the-ear implant, called "N1," can be inserted through a 2mm incision behind the ear. The surgery can be performed while the patient is awake, and it's supposedly about as traumatic as LASIK. 

The behind-the-ear implant, called "N1," can be inserted through a 2mm incision behind the ear. The surgery can be performed while the patient is awake, and it's supposedly about as traumatic as LASIK. 

"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 technology can be monitored, updated, and manipulated with a smart phone app via bluetooth, eliminating the need for on-site caregivers.

The technology can be monitored, updated, and manipulated with a smart phone app via bluetooth, eliminating the need for on-site caregivers.

The neurosurgical robot has a needle that's 24 millionths of a meter in diameter, allowing for high-precision insertion of each delicate thread. 

The neurosurgical robot has a needle that's 24 millionths of a meter in diameter, allowing for high-precision insertion of each delicate thread. 

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."