What is Neuralink’s ‘Neural Lace’?
Let’s start off with Neuralink. Neuralink is Elon Musk’s very secretive company that describes itself as “Developing ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers.” As put in SXSW, we currently have very low bandwidth, especially in terms of output. Usually, when interacting with mobile software we are limited to our fingers and thumbs, and in some cases our voices. Neuralink intends to make this software interaction far easier and faster with a neural lace. Neuralink is expected to make some sort of announcement in the coming months, as alluded to by Elon Musk on the Joe Rogan podcast.
So what actually is a neural lace? In essence, neural lace is a super-thin mesh that is implanted into the skull to form an array of electrodes able to monitor brain function. As of yet, we do not know how far this technology is, due to the secrecy around Neuralink, but other brain-machine interfaces have managed to control robots entirely with neural outputs. The proposed way to implant this neural lace is to fit it into a ball and insert it with a needle, after which it would fold out and rest on the brain. When tested on mice, this method of insertion was not found to cause any concerning side-effects.
The neural lace has been proposed for two main reasons: to provide medical solutions to those with cognitive disorders, and to counteract the AI problem. As we have discussed, the AI problem arises due to the vastly greater computing ability of artificial intelligence software, something which standard human brains cannot compete with. Neural lace would try to solve this be including native artificial intelligence at least as good as the public high-end. As for cognitive disorders, though this would integrate software with neural networks and the human brain, I struggle to see how this would replace normal brain function. Instead, I see a neural lace as an enhancement of the brain’s normal performance.
How does neural lace compare to a digital brain?
Neural lace vs digital brain utility
Neural lace is clearly a lot more limited than a digital brain. When you upload your brain and replace your biological body with an artificial body, you digitise all of your inputs, processes and outputs. In comparison, Neuralink’s technology only adds a digital software layer, but you would retain all of your biological organs and functions. As for utility, this means you are limited to improvements in technology to biology interfacing. You would be a whole lot smarter and you could gather information a whole lot faster, but you would miss out on many of the benefits of a fully digital brain. This includes software enhancements like fully simulated gaming and augmented reality and the hardware enhancements of the artificial body. You would also miss out on the vast customisation an artificial body would bring.
As far as the ideas a neural lace would address, it has the potential to do well there. Assuming it can be done, the technology would indeed vastly improve human intelligence and man to machine interfacing. However, all of this can be done by uploading your brain. If you were to upload your brain, any interfacing would naturally be easier as you are already working with computer software, thus removing the need for the brain implant layer. Of course, uploading your brain would be far further away in terms of the technology required to enable it, and many of the same concerns would be present. As for the idea of curing brain diseases, I am skeptical of a neural lace being able to do this but with a digital brain, damaged areas could be replaced with AI or a healthy copy of that version of the brain in some sort of software transplant.
In total, neural lace technology would be revolutionary for humanity, as would digital brain technology. I think uploading your brain would be a far superior technology but it’s still decades away from becoming a reality. As far as it goes with cognitive performance, it seems the same as with automobile electrification. With vehicles, the closer to a full battery electric vehicle (BEV) you are, the better the car is. The same is true of digital intelligence, with biological brains being the gasoline and digital brains being the BEV. The hybrid, neural lace, is better than the plain gasoline and can act as a stepping stone while the technology improves, but ultimately is not the end goal.