If you can't beat AI, join it: Boffinry biz baron Elon Musk backs brain-machine interface biz

Computers wired into our minds. What could go wrong?

Three years ago, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, mused that artificial intelligence represented humanity's biggest existential threat.

With AI looking more like a near-term marketing opportunity for tech companies than an imminent apocalypse, Musk has dialed back the doomsaying and is now exploring how to connect computers to the human brain.

The billionaire, who coincidentally has an interest in tunneling, has founded a company called Neuralink to bridge the gap between electronic hardware to biological wetware.

Max Hodak, founder and CTO of Transcriptic, a laboratory automation startup, told The Wall Street Journal that he was a member of Neuralink's founding team.

A statement filed with the State of California describes Neuralink as a medical research biz. The company's website contains a minimalist graphic and an email address: jobs@neuralink.com.

Musk hasn't yet announced the company, though he tipped his hand in January with a tweet hinting at an upcoming announcement related to his interest in "neural lace," implanted electrodes that relay data between mind and machine.

A research paper published in 2015, Syringe-injectable electronics, suggests such circuitry could be "minimally invasive" and wireless rather than, say, a suppurating, infection-prone skull piercing, just large enough for a USB-C wire.

Several other organizations have similar goals.

Boston-based Neurable is developing a brain-computer interface for virtual reality applications.

Bryan Johnson, who founded online payments company Braintree, plans to invest $100 million in a startup called Kernel, aims to create brain-machine interface software and hardware for medical applications.

And the US military's DARPA plans to invest $60 million over four years "to develop an implantable neural interface able to provide unprecedented signal resolution and data-transfer bandwidth between the human brain and the digital world."

The neuro-networking needs a breakthrough because current methods of connecting people and computers are too slow for many real-time applications. Last year, Phillip Alvelda, program manager for DARPA's Neural Engineering System Design project, said, "Today's best brain-computer interface systems are like two supercomputers trying to talk to each other using an old 300-baud modem."

That's hardly enough to deliver rich-media ads directly to the brain. ®


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