Elon Musk’s latest company will endeavor to enhance a solar-powered machine that he fears may otherwise become obsolete in the face of rapidly advancing Artificial Intelligence. The human brain.
California-based “Neuralink is pursuing what Mr. Musk calls ‘neural lace’ technology, implanting tiny brain electrodes that may one day upload and download thoughts,” sources tell the Wall Street Journal’s Rolfe Winkler, who broke the story yesterday.
“Speaking at the Code Conference in 2016, Musk said to think of the arrangement this way: "You have your limbic system, the cortex, and then a digital layer, sort of a third layer above the cortex that could work well and symbiotically with you,” explainsCNBC’s Robert Ferris. “Though the lace would interact directly with a person’s brain, Musk said implanting it might not require extensive surgery, remarking that it could be injected into the veins.”
The WSJ’s Winkler writes that Musk, who “may play a significant leadership role [in the company], according to people briefed on Neuralink’s plans,” could not be reached for comment. Winkler did speak to team-member Max Hodak, who “confirmed the company’s existence and Mr. Musk’s involvement. He described the company as ‘embryonic’ and said plans are still in flux but declined to provide additional details.”
Musk later tweeted: “Long Neuralink piece coming out on @waitbutwhy in about a week. Difficult to dedicate the time, but existential risk is too high not to.”
The content Web site’s Tim Urban writes: “So there’s this secret thing I’ve been secretly working on for the past few weeks and it was a secret. But then today I guess some parts of the secret thing that was secret were leaked and now it’s not really a secret anymore.” In the meantime, you can catch up on Urban’s previous insights into Musk’s unenhanced neural pathways, including “The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce” for November.
“The field of A.I. is rapidly developing but still far from the powerful, self-evolving software that haunts Musk,” writes Maureen Dowd in a piece for the April Vanity Fair titled, “Elon Musk’s Billion-Dollar Crusade to Stop the A.I. Apocalypse.”
“Facebook uses A.I. for targeted advertising, photo tagging, and curated news feeds. Microsoft and Apple use A.I. to power their digital assistants, Cortana and Siri. Google’s search engine from the beginning has been dependent on A.I. All of these small advances are part of the chase to eventually create flexible, self-teaching A.I. that will mirror human learning,” Dowd reminds us.
But if you think that “getabsafter40” ad that’s following you around the Web is annoying, obtrusive or creepy, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Dowd writes: Musk “told Bloomberg’s Ashlee Vance, the author of the biography Elon Musk, that he was afraid that his friend Larry Page, a co-founder of Google and now the CEO of its parent company, Alphabet, could have perfectly good intentions but still ‘produce something evil by accident’ — including, possibly, ‘a fleet of artificial intelligence-enhanced robots capable of destroying mankind.’”
As for the name of his new company, “Musk's projects are frequently inspired by science fiction, and this one is a direct reference to a device called a ‘neural lace,’ invented by the late British novelist Iain M. Banks for his Culture series. In those books, characters grow a semi-organic mesh on their cerebral cortexes, which allows them to interface wirelessly with AIs and create backups of their minds,” writes Annalee Newitz for Ars Technica.
“… Though he's said publicly several times that he'd like to upload and download thoughts, possibly to fight against evil AI, he imagines that Neuralink's proof-of-concept products will be implanted electrodes for treating epilepsy and depression,” Newitz continues.
“Neuralink is registered in California as a medical research company and has reportedly already hired several high-profile academics in the field of neuroscience: flexible electrodes and nano technology expert Dr. Venessa Tolosa; UCSF professor Philip Sabes, who also participated in the Musk-sponsored Beneficial AI conference; and Boston University professor Timothy Gardner, who studies neural pathways in the brains of songbirds,” reports Andrew Dalton for Engadget.
Writing for The Verge, Nick Statt points out “the hurdles involved in developing these devices are immense. Neuroscience researchers say we have very limited understanding about how the neurons in the human brain communicate, and our methods for collecting data on those neurons is rudimentary. Then there’s the idea of people volunteering to have electronics placed inside their heads.”
Then again, folks like @waitbutwhy’s Urban might welcome an internal bot that will effortlessly churn out posts for him and, if it’ll let me sleep past 5 a.m. again, I might be inclined to agree.