For many years communicating with your computer by thought has been science fiction. Today, that is coming closer to reality. Many significant advances have been made to manipulate prosthetics. Efforts to create a wider brain/machine interface are underway.
One of the major efforts in this area is being made by Neuralink. Elon Musk, among others, founded the company in 2016. Elon Musk has said that humans must become cyborgs if they are to survive in the robot and AI filled future. He has predicted that we must enhance our own intellectual abilities. If we do not, we will become redundant. According to Musk, Neuralink’s first goal is to help people deal with brain and spinal cord injuries or congenital defects.
Musk has said, “Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence.” The concept behind that is to integrate communications and computer processing power.
Neuralink is researching a direct link between the brain and computers. It has developed a system to feed thousands of electrical probes into a brain. According to Musk, it hopes to start testing the technology on humans sometime in 2020.
Neuralink has the potential to reshape both computing and humanity. The approach that Neuralink is taking uses a robot to insert tiny leads. Each of these leads is only a fraction of the width of a human hair.
First, sewing machine-like technology drills small holes. Ultra-thin electrodes called threads are inserted. A small chip is connected to a “wisp” of 1,024 threads. Up to 10 chips might be embedded under a user’s skin. Musk has said, “Ultimately, we can do a full brain-machine interfaces where we can achieve a sort of symbiosis with AI.” It might be possible for people to type 40 words per minute by thinking with such an interface.
Neuralink calls their approach a Neural Lace. The Neural Lace provides a technology layer above our brains. The expectation is for Neural Lace to increase our cognitive performance levels. The thought is that the closer we become to AI the less of a threat it will be. Neuralink hopes to have this in a human patient by the end of this year.
The Neuralink electrodes are being designed to both read and write data. The Neural Lace is a device that is intended to grow with your brain. Its major purpose is to optimize mental output.
In the long term, Neuralink sees brain-connected chips and wires placed under the skin. The user would wear a communications pod behind their ear like a hearing aid. The ‘pod’ would then use Bluetooth or WiFi to communicate with a phone or computer. The long-term goal is to build a “digital superintelligence layer”. It will provide a high bandwidth interface between the brain and machine intelligence. The distinction between humans and machines may become almost imperceptible.
The challenges to developing this technology are significant. There have been successes in tests with animals. According to Musk, “A monkey has been able to control a computer with his brain”. Many labs are researching brain-machine interface (BMI) technology. But some worry that Neuralink’s invasive method is risky.
The development of other non-invasive methods are underway. The hope is for these to not only read brain activity but also stimulate it. Using one of these technologies humans may someday be able to define what we want to become. It seems clear that humans are on a path to a more symbiotic relationship with our machines.
This is part of transhumanism. That is the enhancement of humans through the use of technology. At the low-end many of us have already taken a step along the transhumanism path. By wearing eyeglasses or a hearing aid we have augmented our bodies with technology. Other augmentations might enable us to ‘see’ wavelengths of light outside the usual visual spectrum. They might also include methods to accelerate the pace of learning. We might someday rapidly learn new skills or gain a better memory.
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