Neuralink, if Elon Musk is to be believed, could be the next step in human evolution. The company's Neural Lace technology could help stave off the potential downsides of AI to humanity and could even trigger the Technological Singularity.
Neuralink is a neurotechnology company that is building a tool to link human brains with computers without the need for a physical connection. The company, formed by none other than Elon Musk, hopes to create a new way of interfacing with technology, in the not-too-distant future.
The Neuralink project began in 2016 and has made some significant advancements towards its goal. When complete, the technology will enable users to have a high bandwidth interface with computers.
This science fiction series is set in a futuristic interstellar 'utopia'. In this universe, all members of society live in a so-called post-scarcity civilization where humans, aliens and advanced AI all live side by side in harmony.
How does Neuralink work?
Neuralink, it is hoped, will work by implanting tiny electrodes into the patient's brain. This is done with the aim of linking human brains with computers without the need for any other physical connection.
Each and every brain-computer interface (BCI) will likely be much more than just a way for you to control whatever streaming service you use. When fully developed, it could be used for things like communicating with loved ones, searching the Internet and interacting directly with AI.
It could even replace your television, streaming content straight into your brain.
Of course, these kinds of functionality are still nowhere near being achieved, but the potential for the technology is immense. Who knows, we may even be able to download 'skills' in the future much like Neo in the Matrix.
However, with regards to BCI, we do know which parts of the brain are responsible for limb movement, which parts receive stimuli from the body, etc. By implanting BCI technology into small patches on the brain's surface, it can be used to help paralyzed patients move robotic arms.
The normal nerve signal from the brain for moving a limb is passed through the BCI to a computer. This, in turn, translates the command and moves a robotic arm accordingly.
Sounds simple enough, but what is incredible about this technology is that it can be used to also pass signals to the brain. But this is still purely theoretical at present.
Whilst it should be possible, we are nowhere near achieving this for most sensory information. However, there has been some development in the ability to feed signals to nerves in the cochlea to enable deaf patients to hear again.
Cochlear implants have been around for a while now and have changed the lives of many patients with severe hearing loss.
There are also BCIs, called deep brain stimulation devices, that do currently exist. These devices send electrical signals directly into the brain, but they aren’t quite at the stage of being true nerve signals just yet.
For Parkinson’s sufferers, deep-brain stimulation is the main form of treatment for alleviating symptoms.
The technology is still in its infancy (and is relatively crude) but we are moving in the right direction. Neuralink, on the other hand, promises to be a very different beast.
According to Musk, without the creation of the Neural Lace technology, humans will be unable to keep pace with the rapid advances in Artificial Intelligence.
What is Neural Lace?
The main thrust of the Neuralink company is their development of something called Neural Lace. This will be a brain-to-computer interface technology that, it is hoped, will enable humans to keep up with rapid development of AI.
Neural Lace is effectively an ultra-thin mesh that is implanted in the skull and forms a body of electrodes which are able to monitor a human brain's function. Once achieved, this will help augment human intelligence to keep pace with AI.
According to Elon Musk, brain-to-machine (B2M) interfaces are an important part of our species' future. Elon is no stranger to openly voicing his concern over the potential impact of AI on humanity in the future.
To ameliorate the potential disaster, Neuralink is working hard to find a way to increase humans' intelligence to equal that of the Artificial Intelligence programs of the future, or superintelligences.
If achieved it will likely trigger something called the Technological Singularity. It might just be the next step in human evolution.
How much is Neuralink worth?
According to Busines Insider, Elon Musk was able to raise $27 million in investment for Neuralink in 2017. At that time, the company was only around a year old, or so.
"Neuralink has sold $27 million worth of equity out of a total offering of $100 million, according to a document published by the SEC on Friday. The form lists 12 unnamed investors and says that equity was first sold on August 15, 2017," Business Insider reported.
But it is unclear who has made the investment beyond Musk and Neutralink's president Jared Birchall. Musk himself, at the time, even tweeted that "Neuralink is not seeking investors".
For this reason, unlike his other company Tesla, you cannot invest with Neuralink on the stock exchange. It is likely to remain a private, rather than public, company for a while.
The company was formed in the summer of 2016 and has been keeping its cards close to its chest ever since.
The wider public outside of the close-knit group of insiders has had to rely on the regular tantalizing comments made by Musk publicly about the company. Musk has described the need to create a "neural lace" device that's capable of supercharging the human brain.
He has also said that such a device will help people combat existential threats from AI. Such a device would also allow humans to engage in what he called "consensual telepathy."
Neuralink is Musk's fourth company. He is also the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and OpenAI, a non-profit AI research company. He also leads a tunneling startup called The Boring Company.
Could Neuralink be used to treat psychological traumas like Netflix's Maniac?
Technology like Neuralink draws its inspiration from science fiction literature. It is reminiscent of some running themes on the big screen seen throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Examples include the Matrix, and of course, the 1990 classic, Total Recall.
But the concept of direct mind-computer interfacing is also the inspiration behind Netflix's new ten-part series, Maniac.
The series is set in a high-tech, dystopian future where an experimental pharmaceutical trial is tested on human subjects.
Participants take a series of three pills to replace cognitive-behavioral therapy for sufferers of psychological trauma. The pharmaceutical therapy, rather than erasing memories; instead has subjects put into a deep dream state.
Whilst comatose, patients are monitoring and guided through their dreams using a supercomputer.
Whilst the premise is clearly science-fiction, Maniac does incorporate some real facets of our current understanding of psychology. Much of the technology and science used in the show, like ink-blot tests and brain monitors, exist in real life.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, for example, is a real-life treatment for trauma and grief today. It is used to help guide a patient towards being able to deal with their problems and is often used in conjunction with medication.
The only thing missing is a method of connecting human brains to the supercomputer. That's where Neuralink could, to borrow a phrase, 'bridge the connection.'
It is not too far fetched for a similar therapy to be developed using Neuralink in the future. Who knows, Maniac, might one day become a reality.