“We are already cyborgs, the problem is the man-machine interface”, said Elon Musk some time ago. Here he is participating in the launch of Neuralink, a medical research company whose name resembles an answer to the problem: how to connect neurons directly?
We do not necessarily realize it, but our brains are already massively connected to computers. On a daily basis, it already uses it as a storage supplement: how many phone numbers do you still know by yourself? How many times a week do you load a Wikipedia page to find the name of this director you have on the tip of the tongue? How often do you save your appointments in your smartphone rather than making the effort to hold them back? Take my case: two minutes ago, I loaded information provided by the Internet to my computer to store them temporarily in my brain; And right now, I pass my thoughts to a computer, which will put them online to share with you.
However, there is a bottleneck in this system: the interface between the brain and the machine is rudimentary. In a sense, it goes through reading, hearing, and rarely touching (force feedback in games, but also computers translate into braille for the blind); in the other direction, it often consists of a keyboard and a scoring system. Let us not delude ourselves: it is slow.
Neuralink Brain chip wide illustration
Connecting the brain directly to the machine is an old dream. The cerebral implant is a classic science fiction and by the 1980s, Dan Simmons imagined how people connected to the Infosphere (think of “the Internet”) stored and searched for information constantly (” Cloud and Wiki “), especially when they encountered an unknown (” stalker on Facebook “). He even described how they felt brutally lost when they were no longer in touch with the reassuring tides of the Retz (“disconnection anxiety”).
We are not there, but we have advanced on reading what is happening in the brain. It is thus possible to recognize the motives observed by someone or to drive games or prostheses by thought. Conversely, causing electrical signals in the brain may improve the conditions of patients with Parkinson’s disease or certain forms of epilepsy; this deep cerebral stimulation is now well controlled.
Cyborgs coming soon?
There, an absence of size: the connection. It is known to read and to cause a diffuse electrical signal, but not to communicate directly an intelligible information. This is the essential step if they really want to create a brain-computer interface, and this is logically the subject of various medical researches, notably to restore mobility and sensation of the amputees.
A notable advance was made two years ago: an ultra-thin “electronic grid” could be injected into mice with a simple syringe, their neural network finally integrating it to the point of allowing a monitoring of the operation of the brain And a treatment similar to that of deep stimulation, but with increased fineness (and without intracranial surgery).
Bryan Johnson, who made a fortune with Braintree, also launched in October a company called Kernel, with the aim of developing implants capable of reading neural exchanges. His hope? Replace a defective communication to restore the memory of people suffering from amnesia or Alzheimer’s disease. But since he announced that launch, in the long run, he also hoped to use technology to improve the performance of healthy individuals.
And here is Neuralink. This time Elon Musk supports the company; the success of some of his previous projects (Tesla and SpaceX) and the hopes placed in others (Hyperloop and the conquest of Mars), in short, the “hype” that accompanies it, Neuralink has already overshadowed other similar companies in the press.
However, for the time being, we know very little: it is a medical research company, Musk is part of its donors, it must work to the creation of neural implants to connect brain And IT, and that is about it. But it is more than enough to tickle the imagination, whether it is to see in it a way to acquire very quickly new knowledge or a new step towards the universe of Matrix.
Musk is a good communicator, he let out a few tracks on Twitter, without ever giving a clear explanation about the purpose and the precise functioning of his company. In all cases, there are probably years of research before getting a functional interface, which would actually make it possible to use computers from brain.
And if one understands the temptation to be able to access any resource online without even having to type on a keyboard, or the interest of consulting a computer unit to improve its cognitive abilities.
Another question must be asked: Are you really ready, to take advantage of an additional artificial intelligence, to add piracy, attacks and simple bugs to your natural stupidity?