Startup from CEO of Tesla and SpaceX aims to implant tiny electrodes in human brains.
The founder and chief executive of Tesla Inc. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has launched another company called Neuralink Corp., according to people familiar with the matter. Neuralink is pursuing what Mr. Musk calls “neural lace” technology, implanting tiny brain electrodes that may one day upload and download thoughts.
The solution he proposed was a “direct cortical interface”, essentially a layer of artificial intelligence inside the brain that could enable humans to reach higher levels of function.
It is unclear what sorts of products Neuralink might create, but people who have had discussions with the company describe a strategy similar to SpaceX and Tesla, where Mr. Musk developed new rocket and electric-car technologies, proved they work, and is now using them to pursue more ambitious projects.
These people say the first products could be advanced implants to treat intractable brain disorders like epilepsy or major depression, a market worth billions of dollars. Such implants would build on simpler electrodes already used to treat brain disorders like Parkinson’s disease.
If Neuralink can prove the safety and efficacy of technology it develops and receive government approval, perhaps it then could move on to cosmetic brain surgeries to enhance cognitive function. Mr. Musk describing how humans struggle to process and generate information as quickly as they absorb it.
“Your output level is so low, particularly on a phone, your two thumbs just tapping away,” he said. “This is ridiculously slow. Our input is much better because we have a high bandwidth visual interface into the brain. Our eyes take in a lot of data.”
Musk wants to build better neural interfaces, first to attack big diseases, and then to expand human potential.
The technology faces several barriers. Scientists must find a safe, minimally invasive way to implant the electrodes, and a way to keep them stable in the brain. It also isn’t yet possible to record the activity of millions of the brain’s neurons to decode complex decisions, or distinguish when someone wants to eat a bowl of spaghetti or go to the bathroom.