March 29, 2017
Tesla founder Elon Musk has launched a new company, Neuralink Corp., to dig deep into so-called neural lace technology that would merge the human brain with artificial intelligence. Musk already heads up two complex businesses. At Tesla, he is under pressure to deliver the Model 3, priced at $35,000, on time. At SpaceX, the ambitious plan is to launch both a satellite-based Internet business and a rocket to carry humans to Mars. Max Hodak, who founded robotic startup Transcriptic, is a member of Neuralink’s founding team.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Neuralink registered in California as a “medical research” company last July. Hodak, who describes Neuralink as “embryonic,” said that, “plans are still in flux.” But what is known is that Musk plans to “develop cranial computers, most likely to treat intractable brain diseases first, but later to help humanity avoid subjugation at the hands of intelligent machines.”
To avoid takeover by AI-powered machines, Musk has suggested a “direct cortical interface,” defined as “a layer of artificial intelligence inside the brain.” Despite tweeting that he would reveal something soon, Musk has made no official announcements.
Musk mentioned that he might fund it himself, via “capital borrowed against equity in his other companies,” but another possibility is investment from Peter Thiel-founded venture company Founders Fund. Thiel and Musk co-founded PayPal.
Sources say Neuralink is already hiring academics, including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory engineer Vanessa Tolosa, “an expert in flexible electrodes;” University of California San Francisco professor Philip Sabes, who studies how the brain controls movement; and Boston University professor Timothy Gardner, who has implanted “tiny electrodes in the brains of finches to study how the birds sing.”
Sources indicate that Neuralink’s first products — which would build on the work done to create electrodes now used to treat Parkinson’s disease and other brain disorders — could be “advanced implants to treat intractable brain disorders like epilepsy or major depression, a market worth billions of dollars.” Later, the company “could move on to cosmetic brain surgeries to enhance cognitive function.”