Elon Musk stated start up Neuralink, which aims to build a scalable implant to connect human brains with computers, has already implanted chips in rats and plans to test its mind-machine interface in humans within two years, with a long-term aim of people “merging with AI.”
Brain-machine interfaces have been around for a while. Some of the beginning success with the technology that includes Brown University’s BrainGate, which first enabled a paralyzed person to regulate a computer pointer in 2006. Since then, research groups and industries, including the College of Pittsburgh Medical Centre and DARPA-backed Synchron, have also been working on similar devices. There are two basic approaches: You can do it invasively, creating an interface with an implant that directly touches the brain, or you can do it non-invasively, usually by electrodes placed near the skin. (The latter is the approach used by start-up CTRL-Labs, for example.)
Neuralink, says Musk, is going to go the invasive route. It’s developed a chip containing an array of up to 96 small, polymer threads, each with up to 32 electrodes that can be implanted into the brain via robot and a 2-millimeter incision. The threads are tiny — less than 6 micrometres — because, as Musk noted in remarks delivered Tuesday night and webcast, “When you stick something in your mind, don’t want it to be giant, you want it to be tiny.”
Once implanted, according to Musk, the chip would connect wirelessly to devices. “It Bluetooth to your phone,” he said. “We’ll have to watch the App Store updates to that one,” he added (the audience laughed). Musk co-founded Neuralink in 2017 and serves as the company’s CEO, though it’s unclear how much involvement he has given that he’s also serving as CEO for SpaceX and Tesla. Company co-founder and president, Max Hodak, has a biomedical engineering degree from Duke and has co-founded two other firms, MyFit and Transcriptic. Neuralink has brought $66.27 million in venture funding so far, according to Pitch book, which estimates the start-up’s valuation at $509.3 million.