Brain–computer interfaces to communicate with external hardware devices
Called Neuralink, the company is developing "neural lace" technology that would allow people to communicate directly with machines without going through a physical interface.
"Neural lace" is a term from the Culture series of science-fiction novels written by Iain M. Banks in 1987 which introduces the concept of programming neurons. This type of technology is slowly becoming a reality upon recent advances in nanotechnology which allowed the development of a biomedically engineered substrate consisting of electrical circuits that can interact with neurological signals upon injection into the brain.
Neural lace involves implanting tiny electrodes in the brain so people could upload or download their thoughts to or from a computer. The brain–computer interfaces (BCI) could allow humans to achieve higher levels of cognitive function.
The goal of the company, according to CEO Elon Musk, is to augment humans so that they can continue to be economically useful while competing with machines.
Facebook is also exploring similar technology through Building 8, its secretive hardware division. The group is developing noninvasive brain-computer interface technology that would allow people to communicate with external hardware devices.
These types of brain-computer interfaces exist today only in science fiction. In the medical realm, electrode arrays and other implants have been used to help ameliorate the effects of Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and other neurodegenerative diseases. However, very few people on the planet have complex implants placed inside their skulls, while the number of patients with very basic stimulating devices number only in the tens of thousands. This is partly because it is incredibly dangerous and invasive to operate on the human brain, and only those who have exhausted every other medical option choose to undergo such surgery as a last resort.
Musk is also attempting to set up safety standards for artificial intelligence through his nonprofit, OpenAI, which he founded with Y Combinator's Sam Altman in 2015. OpenAI's mission is to "advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole."
But Neuralink's first products could involve using implants to treat disorders like epilepsy or major depression. Researchers at universities like the University of California and Duke are also developing brain-computer interface technology that would allow people with paraplegia to walk again.
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