I Need Super Intelligence Like a Hole in the Head

Elon Musk wants to help us stay ahead of AI by getting into our heads

Illustration of a wireframe head and Neuralink attachment

Lifewire / Catherine Song

I have three buckets for innovation:

  •  Good
  • Awesome
  • Crazy

A lot of what companies like Apple, Samsung, Google, and Microsoft do fall into the Good and Awesome buckets. Much of what billionaire entrepreneur Tony Stark… I mean… Elon Musk does fall neatly into the awesome bucket. But Neuralink, his neural lace idea for brain reading and enhancement through a brain implant always struck me as crazy bucket material.

The Idea

I was sitting just a few feet from Musk when he first teased his neural lace concept in 2016. Then, as now, it was about human enhancement in an effort to help our organic bodies and Homo sapiens brains keep pace with artificial intelligence (AI). At the time, he envisioned surgery-free procedure that threaded filaments from large arteries to the brain.

Three years and the formation of an entire company later, Neuralink made its first big public presentation. The focus is, at least initially, on helping the brain impaired, like those suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s, and paralysis-related spinal injuries regain control of their minds and bodies. Unlike the early, conceptual days, Musk now says there will be some drilling.

This Won’t Hurt a Bit

In simplest terms, Neuralink wants to insert neuron-width filaments into the brain that connect to a tiny chip that can then interface with a Bluetooth-enabled module on the outside of the head. Those filaments would be inserted through a millimeter-wide incision and tiny drill hole through the skull, which would then be sealed up.

Yes, this computer/brain interface sounds both fantastic and awful, but Musk revealed that they’ve been testing on rats and even a monkey that can now use its brain to control a computer. Presumably, it Googles “Bananas.”

Admittedly, Musk’s once crazy idea is beginning to sound a lot more plausible and intriguing. The possibility of treating spinal cord injuries. 17,500 people sustain such injuries each year and the costs of treating them can be astronomical. There are dozens of companies building technology that helps these people use minute external actions like breath, tongue movement, and eye gaze to control computers. Brain interfaces are usually not on the menu.

Get Smart

Neuralink’s real pitch for the majority of people not afflicted with brain injuries is the superhuman brain. During the presentation, Musk talked about us merging with AI (you know, if you can’t beat them, join them?) and patients ultimately having superhuman intelligence.

Which leads me to wonder just how far people would go for superintelligence. If they could take a pill, most people would do it. But surgery? Not so much. In addition, Neuralink is basically putting a permanent link to technology — an interface — inside your head. Who’s to say someone, maybe a third-party partner or sloppy social media company, won’t abuse what’s ultimately going to be an open system? And that's not even considering the concept of tech obsolescence.

Neuralink President Max Hodak sought to offer some assurances around privacy, at least, saying, “If you want to build an app or business on top of it, like a brain-enabled API, then your business model can’t be advertising.”

At least we won’t have to suffer through endlessly looping commercials to achieve next-level cyber intelligence.