Movies like Big Hero 6 and The Matrix have introduced us to a whole new type of technology: merging the human mind with machine. In Big Hero 6, the main character, Hiro, is able to teach his robot, Baymax, how to fight by uploading martial arts information to a chip in the robot. Similarly, in The Matrix, the main character, Neo, is able to learn several forms of combat training simply by uploading the information from a computer into his mind. Also in the Matrix, a character named Trinity learns to fly a certain helicopter by just uploading the information to her mind. This technology may seem like a pure work of fiction, but it’s slowly becoming a reality.
What is Neuralink?
In 2016, Elon Musk (a multi-billionaire and innovative engineer) along with other scientists took on a new project: a company named Neuralink. The company originally was created to find a way to help people with brain injuries and trauma. After two years of development, this became the company’s short-term goal. Its long-term goal is now focused on merging man with machine. Elon Musk calls the proposed technology Neural Lace, based on a sci-fi concept from the book series "The Culture" by Iain M. Banks.
Musk says that as artificial intelligence advances, “humans will be unable to keep pace with the rapid advances in Artificial Intelligence. He says that there is a good chance that humans may become the intellectual equivalent of the house cat,” (source: interestingengineering.com). Musk states that the Neural Lace technology will advance the minds of humans by allowing them to integrate mentally with a machine, ensuring that artificial intelligence won’t overpower human beings.
How Will Neural Lace Work?
There isn’t much information on how the technology works specifically, but Musk did give a projected rundown of how the technology should work. The Neural Lace is expected to be an extremely thin mesh made up of electrodes that are meant to be inserted in the skull to monitor brain function. To insert the lace, the mesh will be wrapped around a small needle that will be placed inside the skull to inject the mesh onto the brain. Once injected, the mesh will unravel and surround the brain, eventually integrating into the brain. We’ll then be able to connect the brain to a computer wirelessly without the use of a physical connection and upload information to and from the brain.
The Future of Neuralink
Details about the technology and its development have not been announced yet, so it’s hard to say where the Neural Lace stands in terms of development. Apparently, some tests have been run on mice to see the effect of implanting electrodes onto the brain, and so far, very few consequences have been recorded. But to make the Lace have the ability to upload information to the brain and download info from it, we first have to figure out exactly how the brain works. According to Ray Kurzweil (an American inventor and futurist) scientists will have reverse-engineered and modeled all parts of the brain by 2029, allowing them to know exactly how the brain works. When we get the function of the brain pinpointed, we can easily figure out a way to use these incorporated electrodes to merge the human brain with machine.
There are also many questions that need to be answered for this technology to work. How do we repair the mesh if it gets damaged? Will a head injury damage the mesh? What, if any, are long-term side effects of having this technology integrated within the brain? What about ethical issues and possible hacking of the mesh, which could lead to someone taking over another person’s mind?
It may take a while for this technology to be developed completely and all the potential risks to be nulled, but you can bet that eventually, we might just see the start of a new age of machine-enhanced humans. It’ll no longer be man vs. machine, but man + machine.
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