Elon Musk’s Neuralink will detail progress in computer-brain interface

A livestreamed event in San Francisco will offer a look at the startup's progress developing a "brain-machine interface."

Neuralink, Elon Musk’s fourth and least visible company, will become a bit less secretive Tuesday with a livestreamed presentation about its technology to connect computers directly to human brains. You can also apply to attend the San Francisco event in person to hear “a bit about what we’ve been working on the last two years,” Neuralink tweeted Thursday.

Neuralink, founded in 2016, is working on a way to let human brains communicate directly with computers. Goals include fast transfer rates and quick responses, but just establishing a connection and figuring out how to exchange useful information presents immense challenges.

One possible approach involves an array of flexible probes inserted into the brain with a system resembling a sewing machine, an idea described by researchers reportedly associated with Neuralink. That’s a lot cruder than the organically grown nanotechnological neural laces you’ll find inside the brains of sci-fi characters, but it’s remarkable that the technology is even under discussion.

Musk founded the company in an effort to give humans a performance edge as we cope with the arrival of artificial intelligence — a technology he views as an existential threat to the race. The challenges are immense, though, when it comes to developing the technology, making it practical and affordable, and convincing people it’s safe and desirable.

Pause for a moment and ponder the idea of “consensual telepathy,” because if you can communicate directly with a computer, that computer can directly communicate with somebody else’s brain-linked machine.

In an era dominated by tech giants that have succeeded through computing hardware, software and services, Musk stands out as an entrepreneur who’s got a knack for other parts of the physical world — things like electricity, rocks and gravity.

Musk is pretty busy. He’s got Tesla, which makes electric cars and trucks, massive electric power storage batteries and solar roofs. He’s got SpaceX, which is launching satellites — including its own set for providing internet service — and is working on rockets to get people to orbit, Mars and the other side of Earth. Then there’s the Boring Company, which is trying to create tunnels to relieve automobile congestion on ordinary roads.

Neuralink brings the squishier, immensely complicated realm of biology into Musk’s purview. Human brains are famously hard to understand, though computer scientists at companies like Facebook and Google are progressing rapidly at emulating some of how they work through technology called neural networks, the most practical and promising foundation for today’s artificial intelligence work. One of the most useful aspects of that research is getting computers to understand humans better by processing human speech.

How Neuralink will progress is unclear, but certainly a lot of us would welcome a replacement to keyboards. For a look at the broader implications, a good starting point is the 2017 Wait But Why exploration written with Musk’s input.

Neuralink couldn’t be reached for comment.

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