Elon Musk is trying to make a difference in the world of technology and once again gave a glimpse of that during his Neuralink presentation on Friday that was livestreamed on YouTube. One of the high points of the presentation was Musk's claims that people will one day be able to replay memories, much like in sci-fi films, and download them.
Musk, through his brain-machine interface company, also showcased a pig, Gertrude, outfitted with the company's device, recording signals from an area of the brain linked to her snout. That definitely sounds interesting. The San Francisco-based company aims to make devices that initially would treat serious brain disease and brain damage caused by a stroke in the short-term. However, in the long-term, Musk has bigger plan, that of developing the technology further for human enhancement.
Musk used Gertrude to demonstrate how Neuralink has made significant progress in developing a new kind of interface between the human brain and computing devices. Musk said that once developed, the chip could help people with neurological conditions and control smartphones. However, that remains the primary goal. The billionaire entrepreneur surprised everyone with his claims that in the long run, once the chip is completely developed, it could even equip its users with a sort of telepathy.
"The future's gonna be weird. In the future, you will you be able to save and replay memories," he said. The particular comment got a lot of attention on Twitter. Musk's claims definitely sound fascinating. While many on Twitter said that such a futuristic concept is possible and Musk is the best person to bank on for such an innovation, many joked that they would also be able to "delete memories".
Taking Baby Steps
During his presentation, Musk used Gertrude to demonstrate how the brain chip works. The pig had a device recording signals from an area of the brain linked to her snout. She now has the implant for two months. As Gertrude's snout touched things, an array of dots and a series of noises indicated when more neurons were firing. Pigs have large parts of their brains that are devoted to the snout, a sensitive sensing instrument.
A display showed the pig's real time brain activity as it explored its pen, touching different things with its snout. It's "like a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires," Musk said. That said, Neuralink has changed the design of the device since revealing it last year. An earlier design featured a device that sat behind a user's ear, which was connected to tiny electrode "threads" in the brain. But now it is coin-shaped, and meant to sit flush with the skull, instead of having a small module resting near the ear.
A Future World
Musk, at the beginning of the presentation, said that the purpose of the event was recruiting and not fundraising or any kind of promotion of the device. Understandably, he has faith in his product and wants to step up its development. Musk's aim is to merge human brains with AI and the device will be doing that.
Although the device is yet to be tested in humans, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has designated it a breakthrough device, a program that would allow them to get feedback from the agency throughout the development process, Musk said during the presentation.
Part of Musk's inspiration behind creating Neuralink is a science-fiction concept called 'Neural Lace' that is part of the fictional universe in Scottish author Iain M. Banks' series of novels The Culture.
The Culture is a futuristic interstellar utopian, post-scarcity space society of humanoids, aliens, and very advanced artificial intelligence living in socialist habitats spread across the Milky Way. Musk has often cast his fears over AI dominating the future world and has said that in order to survive, humans will either have to merge with AI at some point in the future or become irrelevant.
According to Musk, without the creation of the Neural Lace technology, humans will be unable to keep pace with the rapid advances in Artificial Intelligence. But the most important thing the device might be able to do, Musk said, would be to let people achieve "AI symbiosis," which would allow the human brain to merge with an artificial intelligence. "Such that the future of the world is controlled by the combined will of the people of Earth — I think that's obviously gonna be the future that we want," he said.