Ilon Musk announced plans to implant chips in the human brain. What's next?
July 16, entrepreneur Ilon Mask presented his new startup Neuralink, whose goal is to create a symbiosis of the human brain with artificial intelligence. A bold idea has already passed tests in rodents and primates, and now Musk will seek the beginning of experiments on humans. What is the danger?
Ideas about creating a symbiosis of the human brain and the computer are not new. With the hypotheses that in this way a new perfect person can be born, who will not get sick and gain new abilities, many science-fiction writers and modern scholars spoke.
However, now the ideas of futurologists are replaced by scientific reasoning and statements about the need to implant chips to defeat fatal or chronic illnesses. The enterprising businessman Ilon Musk, who was well known to the public through his space projects at SpaceX Corporation, as well as loud statements about Tesla's future electric vehicles, decided to take up medicine.
On July 16, in San Francisco, the presentation of a startup Neuralink, which develops chips implanted in the human brain, took place. The goals are stated to be the highest - to help sick people gain healthy opportunities. So, it is assumed that the chip will be able to help patients with Parkinson's disease, as well as paralyzed people who can type text on a computer screen with the power of thought.
The idea of implanting chips into the brain, meanwhile, has no clear future yet. To conduct human testing, the Mask and the Neuralink team will need to obtain permission from the FDA, where they have not yet declared support for the initiative.
New secret startup
Startup Neuralink many Western media have already dubbed the secret, because the development of the company has so far been classified. Ilon Musk founded a startup in 2017 and invested $ 100 million in it. Another $ 150 million was able to attract as investments, including venture capital investments.
Such ambitious plans were presented for the first time. According to Musk, the first task of the project will be to implant chips into the brain of paralyzed patients so that they can fully work on the computer.
Neuralink scientists at the presentation stated that they performed 19 operations in rodents, learning to record activity from the brain using thousands of tiny chips that were implanted next to the neurons of the brain and rodent synapses.
Bloomberg notes that Neuralink "seems to have made a number of breakthroughs that allowed it to place high-speed computing systems inside the brain, while doing less damage to humans than existing methods."
How is this possible? Mask explained that Neuralink created not only ultrathin wires, which scientists called "threads", but also a machine for their implantation. It is assumed that in the turtles of paralyzed patients will drill four 8-mm holes and implant wires through them without affecting the blood vessels. In the future, such an operation is planned using lasers.
As one of the founders of Neuralink, Max Hodak, said, the data transmission unit wirelessly into a computer or smartphone will be located behind the patient's ear. So far this technology has not been implemented and transmission is only possible via the UCB-C port.
A total of about 100 flexible wires and 3000 electrodes attached to them are planned to be implanted in patients, each of which will be able to control about 1,000 brain neurons.
Now the implantation operation is done with the help of a special robot, which is equipped with high-quality optics, which allows it to "look" inside the skull.
Ilon Musk during the presentation, which was broadcast on the YouTube channel Neuralink, did not stint on the promise of a brighter future that humanity is waiting for in the case of the implementation of a new technology.
As noted by Bloomberg, during the presentation Mask stunned the audience, confirming rumors that Neuralink was conducting experiments on monkeys.
“This is a sensitive subject. The monkey was able to control the computer with the help of its brain, ”said Musk, without specifying details.
At the same time, according to him, the invention of Neuralink in the future will open the way to human cybernetic improvement. The technology will benefit millions of people around the world. They will be able to increase the computing power of their brain, perhaps even load new languages into it, or share their thoughts with other people from a distance.
The enterprising marketer also believes that the future consists in the merging of man and machine.
“Thanks to the high-bandwidth brain-machine interface, we can go on the road and effectively integrate with the AI,” he said.
Danger is somewhere near
However, one should always separate the tales of Ilona Mask about a bright future from reality. Of course, the Neuralink startup will be followed by a broader expert response from doctors, scientists, programmers, neurosurgeons, and other specialists.
So far it is only known that the Mask experiments on rodents yielded results in 87% of cases. Statistics of successful operations on monkeys is not available. In addition, it was found that when a foreign object appears in the brain, scar tissue forms around it, which destroys the implantable wires.
Theoretically, the failure of the wires or the distortion of the quality of the signal from the neurons of the brain can lead to unpredictable consequences for the patient. And these are the technological and ethical problems about which Ilon Musk somehow forgot to tell. If blood vessels are damaged, the consequences for a person can be fatal.
According to the BBC, the new ideas of Ilona Mask did not meet unequivocal support in the expert environment.
“The technology described by Neuralink is impressive because it is significantly less invasive than previous work in this area. The plans they describe will require many years of work to solve technical and ethical problems, but technology can be a big step in alleviating some serious diseases, such as epilepsy and Parkinson's, ”said NASA expert Crittika D ' Sylvia.
The Kording Lab Twitter account for scientists from the Department of Neurology at the University of Pennsylvania wrote that in the ideas of Ilona Mask "there is nothing revolutionary, except for a number of truly creative ideas."
Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Southern California, Andrew Khiers, believes that Neuralink technology is extremely interesting, but so far in its designs it is ahead of modern technical capabilities.
Finally, to continue the project, Ilona Mask needs more than money. Oddly enough, Neuralink managed to attract enough funds from private investors who were serious about Mask's fantasies. To continue the Mask project, one thing is needed - experiments on people.
To do this, Neuralink will have to obtain permission from the US Food and Drug Administration, and this is possible only if the company instead of the tales Mask presents serious evidence of the effectiveness of its technology.
That is why, at this stage, the Neuralink initiative looks more like another promise to Mask, who is not only going to colonize the Moon and Mars, provide the entire world with high-speed Internet, build tunnels near Los Angeles and develop a safe autopilot for Tesla electric vehicles, but now completely merge the human and artificial intelligence.
Of course, the idea of reading thoughts at a distance, controlling the computer by the power of thought, as well as hope for paralyzed patients are important factors. They make people believe in the future and in technology. However, at this stage, Musk does not say anything new, but simply collects money from investors in exchange for bright ideas. And is it even possible to entrust your brain to a person who has destroyed more than one human life, and having failed to make a normal autopilot for Tesla? And also to the person against whom the US financial authorities are already investigating?