Human beings like to try and better themselves. We spend a whole bunch of time and money on it. There’s a reason the wellness industry is worth $3.7 trillion. With the human brain controlling over 650 muscles, it remains one of the most fascinating and complex parts of the human body, and one which we desire to better. In our efforts to better ourselves, be it mentally, physically, spiritually, or emotionally, certain things remain taboo. One of the most recent ones to attract attention was Elon Musk’s suggestion of developing AI technology that can be physically integrated into the human brain.
That got a bunch of attention. It makes a lot of people uncomfortable. It makes a lot of people excited, too. For instance, the most popular room to renovate in a home is the kitchen. The most common physical renovations we make to ourselves have less potentially dire implications and aren’t such a foray into the unknown. Musk, forever instigating and pushing the envelope in the world of science, technology, and development thinks it’s the inevitable future of humanity, of our evolution.
In the unveiling of his new startup, Neuralink, Musk ambitiously introduced his plans to develop fully functioning brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) that he hopes will eventually become as common as simple outpatient procedures. His technology would be surgically inserted into the human brain by a robot built specifically for the task. By thin wires, the technology would integrate with the brain itself and communicate with a receiver behind the ear. All of this would be able to then communicate with a computer. His presentation goes much more in-depth on the nuts and bolts of the technology.
“Equivalent to a LASIK type of thing where you sit down, a machine does its thing, and you can walk away within a few hours,” said Musk.
The United States spends three times more on healthcare than anywhere else in the world, but this BMI integration has medical experts taking pause. Musk has always been one for touting technological moonshots and medical professionals see his ambition and bravado as inspiring, yet noting the indisputable fact that it’s still brain surgery. Something that can go wrong even in the “simplest” of procedures. In the United States every year, there are some 20,000 medial malpractice claims filed. A statistic the medical industry wants to avoid altogether certainly won’t be nonchalantly jumping at the opportunity to implant BMIs in human subjects until the technology and procedures are well established and studied.
Still, there have been promising developments. Neuralink has reported successful tests on lab rats, as well as claiming that they’ve successfully rendered a monkey able to control a computer with its mind. Human integration might be a long way off, but the medical intent could be a newfound hope for people with diseases or traumas that have made some physical and motor functions impossible. Biotechnology can trace its roots back to 1919, though the first recombinant DNA experiment wasn’t successfully performed until 50 years later. What this technology could develop into over the span of 50 years — even 10 years — has exciting potential. As it stands right now, the variables and implications, not to mention regulatory bodies, will staunchly ensure that BMIs aren’t being haphazardly utilized.
“Unless we have some sort of brain-machine interface that can solve brain ailments of all kinds, whether it’s an accident or congenital, any kind of disorder or a spinal disorder, we can solve that with a chip. This is something most people don’t understand yet. All of this will occur quite slowly. It’s not like Neuralink will suddenly have neural lace and start taking over people’s brains. It will take a long time, and people will see it coming,” Musk noted.
Given most predictions, experts believe this technology wouldn’t be used or wanted by the majority of the public. As of this year, the consumer electronics market in the United States is worth $301 billion, though it seems a brain-machine integration chip isn’t going to be on your everyday tech wishlist.
Into the future we go.