Elon Musk Wants to Put a Computer in Your Brain

Billionaire/Bond villain Elon Musk made headlines a few weeks ago when he casually dropped his theory that we're all living in a giant video-game simulation created by a super-intelligent entity. Needless to say, it perked up a few ears.

However, during that same on-stage interview with the founders of Recode, he mentioned something else that went strangely under-reported: his desire to develop an implantable computer for the human brain that would prevent our future destruction by ultra-intelligent AI beings.

Yep, Mr. Musk's next big passion project is to turn us all into cyborgs.

Musk refers to this brain computer gizmo as "neural lace," which sounds like the nerdiest lingerie ever, but the term was actually coined by the sci-fi novelist Iain M. Banks in his Culture series about a utopian futuristic society. Banks is one of Musk's biggest influences (he's even named several Space X rockets after him). In the series, neural lace referred to mesh-like devices humans would implant in their brains, meant to control the release of certain neurons with specific thoughts.

The Musk version of this computer-brain interface-thingy is slightly different. The mesh implant would add a digital layer of artificial intelligence to our brains, which would work symbiotically with our cortex and limbic systems to enhance our intelligence. It would basically act as a cerebral power-up. If and when AI sprints past us regular-brained humans, his thinking is, a neural lace would ensure we're not rendered obsolete. 

Elon Musk's a busy dude; he's got the Hyperloop to work on, plus his ludicrously ambitious plans for Tesla... not to mention the whole let's-go-to-Mars-by-2018 thing. To heap another ridiculous moonshot project onto his already-full plate is a bit ambitious. However, for years he's been very vocal about the threat artificial intelligence poses to humanity, and he even started a non-profit dedicated to preventing AI from ruining the world. Seems like a worthwhile cause to me.

Neural lace isn't just some hypothetical concept Musk is cooking up -- there are real moves being made right now to develop this technology. Just last year, a group of nanotech chemists and engineers published a paper about an ultra-fine mesh that can merge with the brain, providing a flexible circuit that could interface with neurons. And it's not only theoretical, it works. They've implanted them into the brains of living mice (the mesh is thin enough to roll up and inject with a needle), and the mice appear to thrive unaffected afterwards.

This is maybe good news for Musk's jam-packed schedule, since he declared he would only take on the neural lace project if nobody else steps up to the plate. Of course, the scientists who wrote the paper are far from making this sort of thing safe to implant in living humans, and they likely haven't even considered the part about seamlessly integrating the AI "layer" once it's there -- arguably the most critical element. In all likelihood, Musk is going to be the guy to tackle it. But who even knows if he'd be able to figure it all out? Let's get to Mars first, then we'll talk. 

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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist and horrified of any needle big enough to shoot a piece of mesh into his brain.