By James Titcomb 17 JULY 2019
Elon Musk has unveiled plans to implant computer chips in people’s brains that the US billionaire says will treat brain diseases and enable superhuman intelligence.
Neuralink, a secretive company set up by Mr Musk two years ago, has said it plans to begin tests of its “brain-computer interface” technology on humans in the next year.
Mr Musk, 48, the chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, said the technology will help “solve brain disorders of all kinds” and allow humans to merge with artificial intelligence.
It has so far been tested on monkeys and rats, he said.
The tiny chip, which measures 4x4mm, is connected to a thousand microscopic threads that enter the brain through four holes drilled in the skull.
Electrodes on the threads would be able to monitor “neural spikes”, the electrical impulses that indicate activity in the brain. The electrodes would both be able to read from the brain and influence behaviour, and feed this back to a smartphone app.
The technology is the latest ambitious effort from Mr Musk, who is worth $24bn (£19bn), after his electric car company Tesla, space exploration company SpaceX, and underground tunnel digging venture, The Boring Company.
He said the earliest version of the technology would first be used to help paralysed patients control their smartphones and computer keyboards.
Later versions could treat patients with brain disorders, building on techniques such as deep brain stimulation, which is used to treat Parkinson’s disease tremor.
Ultimately, he said, advanced versions would allow brains to link with computers, augmenting their intelligence and allowing them to compete with superhuman artificial intelligence.
Mr Musk, who has warned about the dangers of artificial intelligence, said this would mean “symbiosis with AI”.
“Even in a benign AI scenario we will be left behind. With a high bandwidth brain-machine interface we will go along with the ride, we will have the option of merging with AI,” he said.
The early technology has so far mostly been tested on rats, but Mr Musk said they had conducted limited tests on monkeys with positive results.
Mr Musk said: “We definitely need to address the elephant in the room, the monkey in the room. A monkey has been able to control the computer with his brain. Just, FYI.”
The company, however, said it was committed to carrying out the tests humanely.
Neuralink said it wanted to begin trials on humans next year, once it has secured approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the US medical regulator.
The company is hoping it will have equipped its first human patient with the technology before the end of 2020.
Ultimately, the company wants the chips to be installed in a few hours, without a visit to the hospital, using laser beams to pierce holes in the skull. The threads, which are one quarter the width of a human hair, are meant to be small enough to bypass blood vessels in the brain without causing trauma.
A device, sitting behind the ear, would be able to broadcast and receive signals, allowing the chip to interact with a computer or smartphone.
Mr Musk set up Neuralink in 2016, after warning that unless people adapt to combine with computers, humanity risks becoming outsmarted by artificial intelligence. However, until now its work has been kept largely under wraps.
Equipment that can monitor the brain to respond to thoughts has made some progress, but scientists have struggled to find a method that is noninvasive and safe.
The San Francisco-based company has raised around $150m to date, including $100m from Mr Musk himself and has around 100 staff.
Original Article: The Telegraph