Rock-climb without fear. Play a symphony in your head. See radar with superhuman vision. Discover the nature of consciousness. Cure blindness, paralysis, deafness, and mental illness. Those are just a few of the applications that Elon Musk and employees at his four-year-old neuroscience company Neuralink believe electronic brain-computer interfaces will one day bring about.
None of these advances are close at hand, and some are unlikely to ever come about. But in a “product update” streamed over YouTube on Friday, Musk, also the founder of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, joined staffers wearing black masks to discuss the company’s work toward an affordable, reliable brain implant that Musk believes billions of consumers will clamor for in the future.
“In a lot of ways,” Musk said, “It’s kind of like a Fitbit in your skull, with tiny wires.”
Although the online event was described as a product demonstration, there is as yet nothing that anyone can buy or use from Neuralink. (This is for the best, since most of the company’s medical claims remain highly speculative.) It is, however, engineering a super-dense electrode technology that is being tested on animals.
Neuralink isn’t the first to believe that brain implants could extend or restore human capabilities. Researchers began placing probes in the brains of paralyzed people in the late 1990s in order to show that signals could let them move robot arms or computer cursors. And mice with visual implants really can perceive infrared rays.
Building on that work, Neuralink says it hopes to further develop such brain-computer interfaces (or BCIs) to the point where one can be in