Elon Musk now bypassing hands, linking brains directly with computers

28 Mar 2017

Image: Wangbar/Shutterstock

Elon Musk’s latest venture into the future sees the creation of Neuralink, a company aiming to link human brains with computers.

Electric, autonomous vehicles driving you to the Hyperloop station. Hyperloops whizzing you hundreds of kilometres to the space shuttle hangar in the blink of an eye.

A space shuttle transporting you to the International Space Station for a weekend break, returning you on the same rocket, with the same engine, in time for work.

If Elon Musk’s business ventures achieve their intended aims, who knows, one day you might be able to do all this by just thinking it, allowing the vehicles to do the rest.

This is because the Tesla owner has his eyes on the real prize: connecting us to machines in a way few imagined a couple of years ago.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the new company, Neuralink, is planning to develop “neural lace” technology.

Registered as a medtech company in July, Neuralink will use this lace to allow people to communicate directly with machines without going through a physical interface.

By implanting electrodes into the brain, the lace could theoretically let people upload or download their thoughts to or from a computer, as well as improve general cognitive function.

It is not the first company to look at this technology, though. One year ago, Battelle teamed up with researchers at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center to develop a device called NeuroLife, which helped a quadriplegic man regain hand function through a novel approach to neuroscience and technology.

A patient was paralysed after he injured his spine in a bad accident in 2010. NeuroLife acted as a middleman between his brain and his hand, bypassing his spinal chord and delivering signals to allow the man perform functions such as swipe credit cards or play Guitar Hero.

Improving brain signals has been effective in more surprising areas in the recent past.

The Walk Again Project, for example, places a sensor-laden cap on the head of paraplegic patients, and an exoskeleton over their limbs. It then uses virtual reality headsets for training.

The exoskeleton gives feedback as it works, with the team behind the study stunned last year when patients began regaining certain functionality in their limbs.

Updated, 3.55pm, 29 March 2017: This article was amended to clarify Battelle’s role in the development of NeuroLife

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic