There have never been more than a couple hundred electrodes in a human brain at once. When it comes to vision, that equals a super low-res image. The Neuralink team threw out the number “one million simultaneously recorded neurons” when talking about an interface that could really change the world.
Wait but Why got weeks of meetings and details from Elon Musk and the Neurlink team.
Elon wants to get a human computer interface closer to computer to computer interface speeds.
Until the 90s, electrodes for BMIs (Brain Machine Interfaces) were all made by hand.
We began to manufacture 100-electrode multielectrode arrays using conventional semiconductor technologies. Neuralink co-founder Ben Rapoport believes that “the move from hand manufacturing to Utah Array electrodes was the first hint that BMIs were entering a realm where Moore’s Law could become relevant.”
If we double our total every 18 months, like we do with computer transistors, we’ll get to a million in the year 2034.
Research suggests that the number of neurons we can simultaneously record seems to consistently double every 7.4 years. If that rate continues, it’ll take us till the end of this century to reach a million, and until 2225 to record every neuron in the brain
There’s the space issue. Where exactly are you gonna put your device that can interface with a million neurons in a skull that’s already dealing with making space for 100 billion neurons? A million electrodes using today’s multielectrode arrays would be the size of a baseball.
Best Brain machine interfaces and BMI projects
A group is working on a kind of nano-scale, electrode-lined neural mesh so tiny it can be injected into the brain with a syringe.
DARPA, the technology innovation arm of the US military, through their recently funded BRAIN program, is working on tiny, “closed-loop” neural implants that could replace medication.
A second DARPA project is aiming to fit a million electrodes into a device the size of two nickels stacked.
Another idea being worked on is transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), in which a magnetic coil outside the head can create electrical pulses inside the brain.
One of Neuralink’s co-founders, DJ Seo, led an effort to design an even cooler interface called “neural dust.” Neural dust refers to tiny, 100 micron size silicon sensors (about the same as the width of a hair) that would be sprinkled through the cortex. Right nearby, above the pia, would be a 3mm-sized device that could communicate with the dust sensors via ultrasound.
Others are working on even more out-there ideas, like optogenetics (where you inject a virus that attaches to a brain cell, causing it to thereafter be stimulated by light) or even using carbon nanotubes—a million of which could be bundled together and sent to the brain via the bloodstream.
Elon talks about some types of people early BMIs could help:
The first use of the technology will be to repair brain injuries as a result of stroke or cutting out a cancer lesion, where somebody’s fundamentally lost a certain cognitive element. It could help with people who are quadriplegics or paraplegics by providing a neural shunt from the motor cortex down to where the muscles are activated. It can help with people who, as they get older, have memory problems and can’t remember the names of their kids, through memory enhancement, which could allow them to function well to a much later time in life—the medically advantageous elements of this for dealing with mental disablement of one kind or another, which of course happens to all of us when we get old enough, are very significant.
Elon Musk thinks we are about 8 to 10 years away from this being usable by people with no disability … It is important to note that this depends heavily on regulatory approval timing and how well our devices work on people with disabilities.
Open AI is an effort to democratize the creation of AI, to get the entire Human Colossus working on it during its pioneer phase. Elon sums it up:
AI is definitely going to vastly surpass human abilities. To the degree that it is linked to human will, particularly the sum of a large number of humans, it would be an outcome that is desired by a large number of humans, because it would be a function of their will.
High bandwidth mind computer interfaces will give you cyborg superpowers and a window into the digital world. Your brain’s wizard hat electrode array is a new brain structure, joining your limbic system and cortex.
But your limbic system, cortex, and wizard hat are just the hardware systems. When you experience your limbic system, it’s not the physical system you’re interacting with—it’s the information flow within it. It’s the activity of the physical system that bubbles up in your consciousness, making you feel angry, scared, horny, or hungry.
Elon’s vision for the mind computer cyborg era is it serve as the interface between your brain and a cloud-based customized AI system. That AI system will feel like you.
Elon sees communication bandwidth as the key factor in determining our level of integration with AI, and he sees that level of integration as the key factor in how we’ll fare in the AI world of our future:
We’re going to have the choice of either being left behind and being effectively useless or like a pet—you know, like a house cat or something—or eventually figuring out some way to be symbiotic and merge with AI.
The pace of progress in this direction matters a lot. We don’t want to develop digital superintelligence too far before being able to do a merged brain-computer interface.
Elon said increasing bandwidth by orders of magnitude would make it better. And it’s directionally correct. Does it solve all problems? No. But is it directionally correct? Yes. If you’re going to go in some direction, well, why would you go in any direction other than this?