Elon Musk Is Seriously Starting a “Telepathy” Company


Elon Musk, the billionaire C.E.O. of Tesla and SpaceX, has for years rung the alarm about the dawn of artificial super-intelligence, which he believes could lead to an apocalyptic event. But instead of fearing A.I., Musk has another pan for fighting the robots: merging them with the human brain. “Some high bandwidth interface to the brain will be something that helps achieve a symbiosis between human and machine intelligence,” he mused onstage at a conference in Dubai in February.

Musk isn’t waiting for someone else to develop the technology, however. Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that Musk was launching a brain-computer interface start-up called Neuralink, which is developing a “neural lace” technology that would involve “implanting tiny brain electrodes that may one day upload and download thoughts.” Not much was known about the start-up at the time; Neuralink had been registered as a medical- technology company last summer, but progress in the largely untested biotech space is slow-going, mostly because implanting anything in the brain involves invasive and potentially dangerous surgery.

Now, Musk has officially confirmed that Neuralink is real, and that he is serious about the technology. He’ll serve as C.E.O of the company., he told Tim Urban in an interview with Wait But Why published Thursday, placing his commitment to Neuralink on par with Tesla and SpaceX.

The company, Musk explained, will initially seek to treat people with disabilities, but eventually its goal will be to upend human language using brain interfaces. Instead of having to describe difficult-to-explain ideas, you could send a picture from your brain to someone else’s to explain it. “There are a bunch of concepts in your head that then your brain has to try to compress into this incredibly low-data rate called speech or typing,” Musk said, describing what he calls consensual telepathy. “If you have two brain interfaces, you could actually do an uncompressed direct conceptual communication with another person.” Medical applications to treat people with brain injuries or disabilities could be developed in the next four years, Musk says; for telepathy and non-medica uses, Musk says that depending on regulatory approval timing, it could be done in the next eight to 10 years.

Musk isn’t the only Silicon Valley billionaire exploring the potential for telepathic communication. At Facebook C.E.O Mark Zuckerberg’s F8 developer’s conference this week, the company hinted at its own plans for a brain-computer interface service for users with disabilities. “What if you could type directly from your brain?” Regina Dugan, who leads Facebook’s Building 8, a secretive hardware branch of the company, said at F8 on Wednesday. Facebook reportedly has 60 scientists and engineers working on silent-speech communications, creating technologies that would let its users type thoughts from their brains at 100 words per minute.

Investors in Musk’s other ventures may be wary of the 45-year-old technologist taking on another project. Musk is already trying to revolutionize space travel, start a colony on Mars, cover America’s roofs with solar panels, transform the electric grid, convert the world’s automobile infrastructure to electric, and build supersonic transportation systems—when he’s not entertaining harebrained schemes to bore underground tunnels in Los Angeles to solve the city’s traffic problem. Then again, Musk appears perfectly on track with the rest of his companies: Tesla, which recently acquired another Musk entity, SolarCity, is on a stock-market tear, making Tesla more valuable than Ford and putting Musk on track for a $1.4 billion windfall. SpaceX recovered from a launch-pad accident last year and recently relaunched and successfully landed a used rocket, marking a first in the history of spaceflight. And Musk still manages, somehow, to sleep six hours a night. Perhaps he was just getting bored.

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