Elon Musk says Neuralink will cure disease and "address the existential risk associated with digital superintelligence"

November 15th

Neuralink's chip-and-sensor implant will help solve brain disorders and level the playing field between humans and superintelligent computers, Elon Musk has said in an interview.

Musk described his vision for Neuralink on the Artificial Intelligence podcast on November 12, where he went into detail about the company's plans for the first time since unveiling Neuralink earlier in 2019.

Musk told interviewer Lex Friedman that the company's implanted chips will give researchers a closer look at the brain's inner workings than ever before, largely due to the physical nearness of the threads he hopes to implant. He describes Neuralink's implant as a means to capture higher quality information than an fMRI.

Being able to have high precision sensors that tell you what individual neurons are doing, and then being able to trigger the neuron and see what the response is in the brain, so you can see the consequences of the... if you fire this neuron, what happens? How do you feel? What's changed? It'll be really profound to have this in people, because people can articulate their change. Like, if there's a change in mood. Or they can tell you if they can see better, or hear better, or be able to form sentences better or worse, or their memories are jogged, or that kind of thing.

When asked about the implant's possible societal impact, Musk spoke about the health benefits first.

"Neuralink, I think, at first will solve a lot of brain-related diseases," he said, "So, uh, it could be anything like autism, schizophrenia, memory loss."

He described how he plans for it to work:

I think it's like, fundamentally good, you know, giving somebody back full motor control after they've had a spinal cord injury. You know, restoring brain functionality after a stroke, solving dabilitating, genetically-oriented brain diseases. These are all incredibly great, I think, and in order to do these you have to be able to interface with the neurons at a detailed level and you have to be able to fire the right neurons, read the right neurons. And then effectively you can create a ciruit -- replace what's broken with silicon, and fill in the missing functionality.

But he treated the idea that Neuralink could cure disease as a precursor to something that sounded straight out of a sci-fi novel:

Ultimately, it's intended to address the existential risk associated with digital superintelligence. Like, we will not be able to be smarter than a digital supercomputer. So, therefore, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

The end goal of Neuralink, as Musk described it in the interview, is superintelligence:

I think there's room for optimism given that the cortex is very intelligent and the limbic system is not, and yet they work together well. Perhaps there could be a tertiary layer where digital superintelligence lies. And that will be vastly more intelligent than the cortex but still coexist peacefully and in a benign manner... It's important that Neuralink solve this problem sooner rather than later, because the point at which we have digital superintelligence, that's when we pass the singularity and things become, just, very uncertain. It doesn't mean that they're necessarily bad or good... We want to have a computer-brain interface before the singularity, or at least not long after it, to minimize existential risk to humanity and consciousness as wel know it.