Elon Musk has been working on a Neuralink, a human-computer brain interface company, in whatever spare moments he has between running Tesla and also running SpaceX. Neuralink’s ultimate aim may actually be the most ambitious of all three of his companies, surprisingly, and a new exploration of the foundational ideas behind Neuralink on Wait But Why goes deep within what Musk hopes to achieve by creating better, higher-bandwidth connections between our brains and computers.
Musk has confirmed that he will indeed occupy the CEO role at Neuralink, which means he’ll be the CEO of three separate companies. But Neuralink’s goals definitely sound the most science fictional of all three of his ventures, which is saying something considering Musk’s SpaceX is all about making humans an intergalactic colonial species.
Basically, Musk seems to want to achieve a communications leap equivalent in impact to when humans came up with language – this proved an incredibly efficient way to convey thoughts socially at the time, but what Neuralink aims to do is increase that efficiency by multiple factors of magnitude. Person-to-person, Musk’s vision would enable direct “uncompressed” communication of concepts between people, instead of having to effectively “compress” your original thought by translating it into language, and then having the other party “decompress” the package you send them linguistically, which is always a lossy process.
Neuralink’s tech would also be able to help humans keep pace with the rapid advances in AI, and would achieve this by basically integrating AI with human consciousness. Neuralink’s tech would enable human use of AI as just an additional faculty – like our sense of selves or other higher in-brain thought faculties. Making it possible to connect with such high bandwith directly into the brain would allow us to integrate cloud-based AI computing within our selves in a way that’s indistinguishable from our core selves, Musk proposes, much like how most people would now find it difficult to separate their statements and expressions in language from the parts of the brain that generate them.
This tech is still far away from any kind of broad commercial application – maybe farther than a SpaceX trip to Mars. Musk says that it’s probably going to be at least “eight to 10 years” before tech the company produces can be used by someone without a disability. Neuralink is aiming to create therapeutic applications of its tech first, which will likely help as it seeks the necessary regulatory approvals for human trials.
Musk taking on a third CEO role is bound to raise eyebrows among his company’s investors, but Neuralink’s mission is in keeping with the aim of his other two companies: All three focus on solving problems that present what Musk would term existential threats – Neuralink’s agenda of countering AI not least among them.