Computer and your mind may have gotten one step closer.
Elon Musk on Tuesday publicized in a live stream that his neurotechnology startup, Neuralink, hoped to begin inserting devices into human brains as early as next year.
“We hope to have this aspirationally in a human patient before the end of next year,” Musk said on Tuesday at a press conference, where he gave updates on the progress of the system. “So this is not far.”
Musk has financed $100 million into the secretive company since its founding in 2016. Neuralink has brought together some of the world’s leading neuroscientists to its home base at a laboratory at the University of California at Davis.
Musk said the Neuralink system would allow for a tiny chip — referred to as a brain-machine interface — to be inserted into the brains of willing subjects and would allow humans to reach “symbiosis with artificial intelligence.”
Small chips, measuring around 4 mm by 4 mm, would be designed to stimulate neurons — or nerve cells in the human brain that link with other cells — using tiny flexible threads of electrodes. Each electrode thread would be injected using a precision robot in a procedure Musk said would be as safe and painless as LASIK eye surgery.
He said, “It’s not like a major operation — it’s sort of equivalent to a LASIK type of thing”.
Musk known the futuristic system would take time to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
He said the system could be used to treat brain disorders, like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, and ultimately could “preserve and enhance” brain function. He said Neuralink chips would be 1,000 times as effective as other electrode-stimulating systems out there.
Max Hodak, Neuralink’s president, added that the system would be wireless and would last “years to decades.”
While some have praised Musk’s attempts to create the next generation of brain-computer linking, experts say the hype surrounding the complex system may not be justified just yet.
Philipp Heiler, a physician who founded Neurofeedback Neuroboost, told last year that such systems came with dangers including brain damage, inflammation, and scarring.
Heiler said, “You have to ask yourself what the advantage is over other interfaces like touchscreens or language assistants like Alexa.”
Thomas Stieglitz from the Department of Biomedical Microtechnology at the University of Freiburg in Germany told last year that Neuralink’s stated long-term goals sounded too good to be true.
Stieglitz added, “I believe Neuralink’s long-term goals are unrealistic, or at least it’s dubious to phrase them in such a way.”
“Unless all this is clear, it’s simply not possible to upload knowledge somewhere else then upload it back into the brain. While it might make for great science fiction, in reality it’s just hokum.”