Earlier this month, Elon Musk joined Joe Rogan for a podcast interview, discussing AI and the future.
An important topic in the interview was the projects and future ambitions of Musks startup company Neuralink. Co-founded by Musk in 2016, the startup has remained rather secretive about its projects, with occasional announcements and updates.
While the aim of Neuralink appears to be broad and somewhat undefined, one definitive goal is to create devices to treat various brain diseases.
Peter Stratton of the Queensland Brain Institute spoke to Age of Robots about how such things are being achieved through Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) “The whole idea of a neural prosthetic basically started with deep brain stimulation, you might say that was the the original idea—and that occurred in France several decades ago.”
While the technology being developed by Neuralink may differ from the competition, the goals of these companies are broadly similar—computer-to-brain interface for enhancement and healing. Dr Stratton explained to us that the scope of DBS is expanding. “[With] Parkinson’s disease… we can target certain brain areas, insert electrodes into those brain areas and stop the tremor. Now DBS is being trialed for many other conditions as well like depression and obsessive compulsive disorder.”
We’ve been anticipating an update on the status of Neuralink since February when Musk hinted that a ‘new version’ of their brain interface was at some stage of development. Some details as to the state of Neuralink’s brain interfacing project were dropped during the interview with Rogan. Musk did revealed that the project aims to test it’s early-stage brain-machine interface on humans soon—something the startup has been unable to do up to this point. He stated that Neuralink could greenlight the human testing “in less than a year”.
Certain technicalities about the implant and the process behind it have been announced previously. It is an invasive medical procedure for the module to be implanted into the brain—a small piece of the skull must be removed, followed by the insertion of ultra thin threads with electrodes.
Despite the invasive nature of the procedure, Musk stated that implanting and subsequently using the technology pose very little risk, and that the likelihood of the body rejecting any part of the implant is minimal. And while the possibility of human testing is not far off, Musk noted that the project is still in it’s early stages, with “a lot of work to do” before it is fully operational. Nevertheless, the ability to restore function to parts of the body via brain interfacing could be within reach.
“So it’s getting to the point where you know, we’re not just trying to treat physical manifestations of brain disease,” says Stratton, alluding to the benefits potentially offered by various new forms of deep brain stimulation and interfacing “We’re actually trying to treat mental states as well.”
“You know that as soon as the technology becomes viable, there will be people who will try that,” Stratton elaborated. “So I guess the cyborgization of humanity… you could say that’s already beginning.”