Elon Musk Gives First Glimpse of His Brain-Reading Venture

July 17, 2019

By Carlo Versano

Elon Musk's most secretive "science fiction" venture took a step toward mainstream legitimacy Tuesday. Neuralink, the startup working on brain-computer interfaces in which Musk has sunk $100 million of his own money, publicly detailed the first steps it has made toward its goal of using tiny electrodes to "read" the mind.

At a livestreamed event, Musk unveiled a device he likened to a "sewing machine" that will be able to implant 1500 electrode "threads" ー each about a quarter the width of a human hair ー that will, at least in theory, pick up data from the human brain and allow people to control computer interfaces with just their thoughts.

"Essentially you have these smart machines and your brain directly interfaces with them," explained Mike Brown, a technology writer at Inverse.

"It appears to be science fact."

Neuralink is initially pitching the futuristic technology as a salve for people suffering from medical conditions that create major mobility issues, like paralysis. The Neuralink machine, which based on images distributed by the company would sit like a hearing aid behind a person's ear, would allow paralyzed patients to control computers, phones, or presumably even some machines. Eventually, the idea is to replace the tiny threads, which require drilling tiny holes into the skull, with lasers, according to a white paper that accompanied the presentation.

The company says it is currently testing the technology on lab rats. Researchers are working with Stanford University on early experiments. Musk even said during the Q&A portion of the presentation that a monkey had been able to "control a computer with its brain."

Unlike some of Musk's boldest claims, the presentation "was quite heavy on scientific research," Brown noted. Though Musk's claim that Neuralink would begin trials on a human patient by the end of next year drew parallels to some of Musk's most aggressive timelines for projects at his other companies, Tesla ($TSLA), SpaceX and the Boring Company, which he is famous for missing.

Musk himself admitted that the technology has a long way to go, and said the presentation was more about recruitment than anything. Neuralink currently has about 90 employees and $158 million in funding, according to the New York Times.

"It may take some time for the dust to settle a little bit before we hear more input from others in the community," Brown said.