Elon Musk gears up to merge human brains with computer chips, clinical trials in 2020
SAN FRANCISCO, California, July 22, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Futurist Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, recently explained that the mission of his latest visionary endeavor, Neuralink, is to develop an implantable brain-computer interface (BCI) that will soon have revolutionary medical applications. More importantly, Musk said it will serve to protect humankind against the threat of artificial intelligence (A.I.).
Neuralink’s new technology, Musk promises, will in the near future enable paralyzed individuals to control a computer or smartphone with their thoughts. Musk also envisions the human brain “merging with AI,” creating access to superhuman intelligence as well as allowing a symbiotic relationship with A.I.
Musk delivered his remarks at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
'Existential threat' of A.I. is akin to 'summoning the demon'
For some time now, Musk has been warning that humanity may be in peril due to the rapid development of A.I. Speaking at MIT in 2014, he said A.I. is humanity’s “biggest existential threat” and compared the adoption of A.I. to “summoning the demon” in a horror movie.
“If you’re not concerned about AI safety, you should be,” said Musk in a 2017 tweet.
Musk warned in 2018 that A.I. could create an “Immortal Dictator” that could govern the entire world. “As AI gets probably much smarter than humans, the relative intelligence ratio is probably similar to that between a person and a cat, maybe bigger,” Musk told Rocode’s Kara Swisher. “I do think we need to be very careful about the advancement of AI.”
The ultimate goal of Neuralink is “to secure humanity’s future as a civilization relative to AI,” Musk told his audience in San Francisco.
“After solving a bunch of brain related diseases there is the mitigation of the existential threat of AI,” he continued. “This is the point of it.”
“This is something I think that’s going to be really important at civilization level scale,” said Musk.
“I’ve said a lot about AI over the years, but I think that even in a benign AI scenario, we will be left behind.”
Musk believes that unless humans are able to interface with computers in this way, A.I. will evolve beyond our ability to control it. He believes that “merging with A.I.” is the only way for humans to avoid becoming irrelevant.
Musk called attention to the difference in the rate of input and output in the way most of us currently interface with machine intelligence. He explained that although humans already have access to vast amounts of information through our computers and smartphones, we are limited by the slowness of our output — i.e., the speed at which our fingers can type.
A neural implant would bypass the use of our digits, allowing for near instantaneous, wireless communication between brain and computer.
Musk showed a brief video (08:32–09:36) that explains how the Neuralink system would work with the human brain:
“The system that we’ve designed in version one, is capable of on the order of 10,000 electrodes,” said Musk, noting that this contrasts with current FDA-approved systems for helping patients with Parkinson’s Disease, which have just 10 electrodes.
“So the version which we are going to unveil today is capable of a thousand times more electrodes than the best system out there.”
Musk envisions that the process would be affordable and commonplace because insertion of the receptors into the human brain would be a process akin to the now widely used LASIK eye surgery, which involves a short visit to a doctor, rather than invasive surgery requiring a lengthy, expensive hospital stay.
Human brain implant trials begin soon
Up until now, experimentation with the new BCI technology has been limited to laboratory rats, but Musk said that the first human clinical trials will begin next year.
Musk and his team appear to think that their newly developed technology will quickly deliver successful medical applications for those with serious neurological illnesses or brain damage, spinal cord injury, or stroke.
Just beyond the noble aim of medical applications, however, is Musk’s ultimate goal: to make Neuralink’s device available to everyone.
“It’s not going to be like suddenly Neuralink will have this incredible new interface and take over people’s brains,” Musk assured his audience, and yet that is precisely what many people fear regarding advancing BCI technology.
“It will take a long time, and you’ll see it coming,” he said. “Getting FDA approval for implantable devices of any kind is quite difficult and this will be a slow process.”
July 23, 2019 3:45 PM EST update: This report has been updated with additional quotes from Musk.