Elon Musk continued his assault on the impossible last night, delivering a rare update on the status of Neuralink, his neuroscience company with the long-term goal of facilitating symbiosis between humans and AI.
Wait, Elon has a neuroscience company?
Of course he does. Musk founded Neuralink four years ago, distilling the company's vision in a 2017 blog post: “We are aiming to bring something to market that helps with certain severe brain injuries (stroke, cancer lesion, congenital) in about four years.”
The device it's developing utilizes tiny “threads,” about a third of the size of thin human hair, that are stitched into the brain by a “sewing machine-like” robot.
In the picture above, you can see what Neuralink has been up to the last year, reducing the length of the threads to just a few centimeters. Elon described it last night as a “Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires.”
As is usually the case with Elon, it’s not as far fetched as it sounds. Matt Nagle, a person with spinal cord paralysis, received a brain implant in 2006 that allowed him to play Pong using just his mind. Since then, researchers have continued to explore ways computers could improve brain function. “Neuralink didn’t come out of nowhere, there’s a long history of academic research here,” Neuralink president Max Hodak said in 2019.
Like last year's event, Elon emphasized that the purpose of this presentation was to recruit people to work at Neuralink (no neuroscience experience required). But that didn’t stop him from speculating on what the device could eventually achieve. Musk touched on everything from quadriplegics playing video games to opening a Tesla with your mind (he said there’s a 100% chance this happens). But the first uses are still medical in nature. "I'm confident in the long term it'll be possible to restore somebody's full body motion," he said.
Bottom line: Some analysts expected a human trial last night, but got pig demonstrations instead. People's brains are on the horizon, though—Musk announced that the FDA granted Neuralink "breakthrough device" designation, allowing the company to proceed on an accelerated timeline toward human trials.