Elon Musk Isn’t the Only One Trying to Computerize Your Brain

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Getty Images Elon Musk wants to merge the computer with the human brain, build a “neural lace,” create a “ direct cortical interface,” whatever that might look like.

In recent months, the founder of Tesla, SpaceX, and OpenAI has repeatedly hinted at these ambitions, and then, earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Musk has now launched a company called Neutral ink that aims to tiny implant electrodes in the brain “that may one day upload and download thoughts.”

And he’s not the only one. Bryan Johnson, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who previously sold a startup to PayPal for $800 million, is now building a company called Kernel, pledging to fund the operation with $100 million of his own money. He says the company aims to build a new breed of “neural tools” in hardware and software—ultimately, in a techno-utopian way, allowing the brain to do things it has never done before. “What I really care about is being able to read and write the underlying functions of the brain,” says Johnson.

SwissCognitive LogoIn other words, Musk and Johnson are applying the Silicon Valley playbook to neuroscience. They’re talking about a technology they want to build well before they can actually build it. They’re setting the agenda for this intriguing yet frightening idea before anyone else sets it for them. And they’re pumping money into the idea in ways no one else ever has. Throw in all those science fiction tropes involving brain interfaces—that’s where the term “neural lace” comes from—and you’ve got a brand new and potentially very important industry that’s ridiculously difficult to make sense of.

Let’s start here: According to David Eagleman, a Stanford University neuroscientist and an advisor to Kernel, the notion of implanting a computer interface in a healthy human brain is a non-starter—not only now, but even if we look many, many years down the road. “With any neurosurgery, there’s a certain risk—of infection, of death on the operating table, and so on. Neurosurgeons are completely reluctant to do any surgery that is not a required surgery because the person has a disease state,” he says. “The implanting of electrodes idea is doomed from the start.” […]

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