In an announcement livestreamed late Tuesday night, Elon Musk unveiled his newest plan for world domination – I mean technological innovation. Neuralink, a brain-machine interface startup, hopes to integrate humans with AI by surgically implanting processors into our brains.
The livestream started with a promotional video showing a fancy laboratory full of scientists hard at work. In case it looked too good to be true, Musk began his speech by pointing out “that video was not Shutterstock, that was actually Neuralink. That’s actual video from the company.”
According to a white paper on the technology, Neuralink is a system of multi-electrode polymer probes inserted into a human brain in order to pick up signals from neurons. Those signals will then be interpreted and, thanks to a airpod-esque device worn behind the ear, relayed via Bluetooth to a phone or other device equipped with neural-data enabled software. Successful application of the technology would allow users to control their phone’s cursor and keyboard with their brains.
If all this seems a bit dystopian and you feel like you’re reading spoilers for the next season of “Black Mirror,” Elon Musk seems to understand. He reassured us that “it’s not like Neuralink will suddenly have neural lace and start taking over people’s brains. It will take a long time.” So, like, eventually it will take over our brains? Just not immediately?
It’s well documented AI is so powerful it could rapidly outpace human capabilities. Neuralink hopes to prevent this by creating a symbiotic relationship with artificial intelligence. “Even in a benign AI scenario, we will be left behind. With a high-bandwidth brain machine interface we can go along for the ride and have the option of merging with AI,” Musk said.
In the interest of transparency, I must admit I have a personal tie to this story: Musk and I had the same idea. A few months ago for a college class project I had to imagine a subjunctive technology that worked “in the realm of design fiction rather than the here and now” (credit to professor Mark Sample at Davidson College, who came up with the project). I came up with a technology that bears glaring similarities to Neuralink. My idea was for a permanent, personal scribe with a less concise (but more witty, in my humble opinion) name than Neuralink: Stuck In Your Head.
At the time of the project, I was drawing on inspiration from “Black Mirror” S1E3: “The Entire History of You,” where people had brain implants to keep track of their memories (spoiler: it didn’t end well). Oh, and Kris Jenner, who famously hired a personal scribe to keep track of everything she said. Hopefully, Musk had different inspiration for his invention.
The mock website I designed for Stuck In Your Head describes it as the “newest wearable technology that will enable you to never lose another one of your brilliant thoughts … After a one-time insertion session, the scribe will use neural connections to record your thoughts so that you can keep track of everything.” Oh, and the product attaches to your ear, à la Neuralink “pods.”
The main difference between my idea and Musk’s is intent. Stuck In Your Head, my limited resources aside, was never meant to see the light of day. Neuralink, on the other hand, hopes to begin human clinical trials next year, according to Tuesday’s announcement. When I turned in my subjunctive assignment, I never imagined it could become a reality just a few months later.
The two inventions, however, may share the same lack of feasibility. According to Vice: “Musk’s claims need to be taken very skeptically from both a sociopolitical and an engineering/scientific standpoint,” and considered in the context of his other far-fetched side projects such as the Boring Company and the submarine he hoped to build to save Thai children trapped in a cave. So for now, we should probably stick to controlling our phones with our thumbs.