Neuralink has made its first-ever original Twitter post, breaking the silence on Elon Musk’s elusive brain-computer linkup startup.
The firm, which aims to develop “ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers,” announced Thursday plans to host an event in San Francisco on the evening of July 16. The private event will give guests a chance to “hear from members of our team about what we’ve done so far as well as some of our plans for the future.”
Perhaps most interesting of all, the company is giving members of the public the chance to attend the limited-space event. Candidates are invited to fill out eight questions, including a link to their LinkedIn profile and an explanation of why they should attend. Neuralink also reassures people that those who are unsuccessful can still watch the event through an online livestream.
The event’s announcement sparked elation among the account’s 39,000 followers. One follower, called “Derik,” referred to it as “the greatest leap in human evolution.” But what will Neuralink actually do?
Neuralink: What We Know So Far
Musk has regularly spoken about the need to create a brain-computer interface to stop the growth of super-smart A.I. In September 2016, Musk stated that a “human-A.I. symbiote” would help “democratize” A.I. and take power away from an “evil dictator” machine. Basically, to avoid artificial intelligence taking over, humans will have to merge with artificial intelligence:
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I think if we can effectively merge with A.I. by improving the neural link between your cortex and your digital extension of yourself, which already, like I said, already exists, just has a bandwidth issue. And then effectively you become an A.I.-human symbiote. And if that then is widespread, with anyone who wants it can have it, then we solve the control problem as well, we don’t have to worry about some evil dictator A.I. because we are the A.I. collectively.
Neuralink was founded that year as a California medical research firm.
This week’s Twitter posts were not the first thing to hit Neuralink’s page. It previously retweeted a post from Tim Urban, the author behind WaitButWhy. The explainer website published a very long article in April 2017 based on conversations with Musk detailing what Neuralink is and what it will do.
The post clarified one key area of confusion around Neuralink: It’s not focused on neural lace, not initially at least. It’s looking at a multitude of technologies to link up computers with brains, like electrodes and neural dust electrodes that would fuse to the brain.
In terms of concrete goals, the initial focus will be on medical applications. Urban’s article states that Neuralink aims to launch a product in 2021 “that helps with certain severe brain injuries (stroke, cancer lesion, congenital).” At the start, the firm listed 15 job openings to assist with its goals.
The article is practically the only major source of information about Neuralink’s plans and operations, and it’s unclear if any of these goals have changed. Four months after the post, Musk gave a tiny update confirming that Neuralink was not then raising money.
In March 2018, it emerged that Neuralink CEO Jared Birchall wanted to renovate the company’s San Francisco headquarters to house rodents. Musk has not yet made any mention of animal testing. The company then told the city’s planning department it had abandoned these plans. Further evidence suggested the team had been conducting research at the University of California’s Davis campus since June 2017.
In April 2019, five scientists linked to Neuralink published a research paper describing a sewing machine-like technique for inserting probes into human brains. The scientists used lab rats and a needle to rapidly insert flexible polymer electrodes. The linkup was connected to a circuit board that relayed activity. This had mixed results: While two rats kept the board on their head for months, others fell off fairly fast.
It subsequently emerged in May 2019 that Neuralink had raised $39 million out of a $51 million funding round.
While Musk has continually pressed for human-A.I. linkups, like in August 2018 when an A.I. beat human players at the Dota 2 video game, next week may be the first time that the plan takes a big step toward reality.
Watch an explainer on the Dota 2 A.I. here: