01 September 2020

MIT Technology Review: “Elon Musk’s Neuralink is neuroscience theater”

Throughout the event, Musk deftly avoided giving timelines or committing to schedules on questions such as when Neuralink’s system might be tested in human subjects.

As yet, four years after its formation, Neuralink has provided no evidence that it can (or has even tried to) treat depression, insomnia, or a dozen other diseases that Musk mentioned in a slide. One difficulty ahead of the company is perfecting microwires that can survive the “corrosive” context of a living brain for a decade. That problem alone could take years to solve.

The primary objective of the streamed demo, instead, was to stir excitement, recruit engineers to the company (which already employs about 100 people), and build the kind of fan base that has cheered on Musk’s other ventures and has helped propel the gravity-defying stock price of electric-car maker Tesla.

Antonio Regalado

There is a lot of potential in this area of research, both for medical applications and general life improvements, but for the time being Elon Musk’s contribution remains limited to putting a PR spin on old cyberpunk tropes. He may be a genius, but he should learn how to properly evaluate his ideas before launching himself into dozens of unrelated projects where he has next to no expertise. Otherwise his initiatives end up looking like promotional stunts for his boisterous personality and more established businesses. Frankly, in this situation I find his modus operandi insulting to people suffering from depression and other neurological conditions – and to the scientists doing genuine research in this field.

An illustration of a prototype neural sewing machine with a helmet to secure a patient’s head
An illustration of a prototype neural sewing machine with a helmet to secure a patient’s head. Woke Studio

To neuroscientists, the most intriguing development shown Friday may have been what Musk called “the link”, a silver-dollar-sized disk containing computer chips, which compresses and then wirelessly transmits signals recorded from the electrodes. The link is about as thick as the human skull, and Musk said it could plop neatly onto the surface of the brain through a drill hole that could then be sealed with superglue.

I mean… who doesn’t want a hole drilled through their skull and patched together with superglue?!

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