Billionaires are investing in brain-computer-interface systems. Here’s why
Earlier this month, we reported that Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos- backed foundations ( Gates Frontier and Bezos Expeditions) joined other companies in investing $ 75 million in Synchron, the endovascular brain-computer interface (BCI) company. Meanwhile, it is common knowledge that Elon Musk is behind the industry -leading startup Neuralink.
Finally, Peter Thiel, a billionaire cofounder of PayPal, invested last year in an older BCI startup called Utah's Blackrock Neurotech that has announced it hopes to apply for Food and Drug Administration approval soon. What is behind this popular rush to support BCI firms?
A fifty year history
BCIs are not entirely new. In fact they have been around for roughly 50 years although their beginnings were primitive. (Think of a bunch of people wearing caps to play pinball using their minds.)Today, they are performing wonders and going into subjects’ brains.
"Every single day, there's some fabulous, new, really powerful insight," Christopher Moore, a neuroscientist and associate director of Brown University's Carney Institute for Brain Science, told Business Insider. "It's just a treat to be a part of this field right now."
The investments of billionaires however are driven by more than the applications available today, that are mostly medical. Instead, investors are looking into the futuristic possibilities that the technology brings with it.
"Elon, Gates, and Bezos are always intrigued by things that could change the game," Robert Nelsen, a biotech investor at Arch Venture Partners who's invested in Neuralink and Synchron, further told Business Insider.
Synchron is already helping people with severe debilitating medical conditions achieve tasks that would otherwise be out of reach for them. Business Insider made note of Philip O'Keefe, an Australian who was implanted with Synchron's device in 2020.
Despite having ALS, O’Keefe can use his mind to play games online, exchange WhatsApp messages, and turn the lights on and off at home, all thanks to BCI.
"Whatever you can do on a computer, I can do," O'Keefe recently told Business Insider. "At this stage, I am a bit slower than you would be, but there is the ability to do almost anything — if I want to."
A variety of applications
But BCIs are not limited to giving motion to those who lack it. They can be used to investigate our brains, create super soldiers and even treat diseases such as depression through deep stimulation. Their applications are many, varied and extremely powerful.
This is what is attracting so many of the world’s wealthiest men to the new tech.
"People think of the brain as the most advanced computer out there," Kurt Haggstrom, Synchron's chief commercial officer, told Business Insider. "What tech person is not going to want to learn and be able to tap into it and understand how it works?"
Before BCIs can reach their full potential, they have a long way to go. For now, they are focused on observing, interpreting, and even adjusting what the neurons firing in our brain are doing. However, only time will tell what they may achieve in the future especially with the right amount of financing.
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