Elon Musk details vision to merge our brains with computers

If you can’t beat them, join them.

As promised, Elon Musk has released more details about his newest company. San Francisco-based Neuralink aims to link human brains to computers in an answer to the rise of artificial intelligence, which Musk has warned could be humans’ greatest existential threat.

His worries about AI have prompted Musk to donate money to research toward ensuring it benefits humanity instead of hurting it. He has also established the nonprofit research company OpenAI along with tech figures such as Sam Altman, Reid Hoffman and Peter Thiel and others.

Now, Musk will be chief executive of Neuralink, which was registered as a medical research company last year. Details had been scarce since, but today we have been provided with so many details we hope our brains can take it.

Musk says we don’t want machines to become way smarter than we are, that we don’t want to become irrelevant as AI becomes more powerful. So the time to act is now — even though he’s already running Tesla and SpaceX.

“The pace of progress in this direction matters a lot,” Musk told Wait But Why blogger Tim Urban. “We don’t want to develop digital superintelligence too far before being able to do a merged brain-computer interface.”

Neuralink, whose website says it is hiring engineers, scientists and others in San Francisco, will create tiny electrodes that can be implanted into the brain to essentially speed up communication — perhaps giving humans a fighting chance in keeping up with the machines.

But he also envisions those electrodes, which Musk calls “micron-sized devices,” doing something else in as little as four years: help treat severe brain injuries including strokes and cancer lesions.

Marketing such a use for the devices could help support Neuralink’s ultimate goal, which Musk says can be reached in about a decade.

“I think we are about eight to 10 years away from this being usable by people with no disability,” he told Wait Buy Why. “It is important to note that this depends heavily on regulatory approval timing and how well our devices work on people with disabilities.”

Here’s what else he said about “this”: “If I were to communicate a concept to you, you would essentially engage in consensual telepathy. You wouldn’t need to verbalize unless you want to add a little flair to the conversation or something, but the conversation would be conceptual interaction on a level that’s difficult to conceive of right now.”

This newest venture is another example of how Musk likes to think ahead. This is the man who created SpaceX because he was “dismayed” that the U.S. had seemed to lose its space-exploration spirit. Also, his goal to send people to Mars isn’t just for the heck of it — he has warned of the short-sightedness of one-planet civilizations.

Musk isn’t the only one messing with our heads. This week, for example, Facebook said it’s also working on some man-machine meld action, such as typing with our brains and “hearing” with our skins.


Photo: Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, talks about the Model X at the company’s headquarters in Fremont in 2015. He is also chief executive of SpaceX, and now, Neuralink. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)


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