Elon Musk wants to get inside your head. In April, the Silicon Valley billionaire announced plans to launch Neuralink—a company dedicated to developing a brain-to-machine interface to cure brain ailments like paralysis and memory problems and help people compete with robots when the artificial intelligence revolution makes human brains obsolete. Musk says this will be accomplished by implanting tiny electrodes into the brain—allowing for things like downloading and uploading memory and casual brain-to-brain communication.
Leaders in the neurotechnology field welcome Musk’s arrival, while neuroethicists and others urge caution. The endeavor may sound like science fiction, but it’s feasible, says Timothy Deer, president of the International Neuromodulation Society, a nonprofit group of researchers and developers dedicated to using spinal cord stimulation to treat neurological pain. “The cochlear implant was invented 20 years ago, and with electricity and the right frequencies targeting the brain, it allows people to hear,” he says. “That sounded impossible back then.” And great gains require great brains, Deer says. “Ben Franklin didn’t know how to harness electricity, but he and others knew it was the key to something. Now, we know how to use electricity in very specific ways. It’s exciting to see how Mr. Musk might change how we think.”
Humans have been trying to mess with their brain waves to solve diseases since ancient times: The Romans and Greeks used to put electric fish on top of their heads to relieve pain, says Ana Maiques, CEO of Neuroelectrics, a company that develops noninvasive wireless brain monitoring and stimulation technologies.