What to expect in the Neuralink announcement
Recently, Neuralink has scheduled an announcement for Tuesday, 16th July. While we await this Neuralink announcement, we can only speculate about what it might entail. What is almost guaranteed, however, is that the announcement will be about Neuralink’s famous ‘Neural Lace’, a brain-machine interface designed to make people as smart as general AI. The company was founded on this ideal as Elon Musk, the founder and CEO, does not want AI to intellectually dominate the human populous and sees symbiosis as the best solution.
Curing brain diseases
Neuralink Corporation is listed as a medical company. In Elon Musk’s own words, a medical application would come before any brain/machine symbiosis. In one interview, Musk said the following:
Unless there have been major changes, this suggests that brain damage applications will be the focus of the Neuralink announcement. This has the potential to be a multi-hundred-million-dollar industry, which would help enable the currently 66 million dollars Neuralink corner a large and stable market and boost their balance sheet, whilst helping possibly hundreds of millions of people with brain damage.
Three layers of cognition
In many interviews and conversations, Musk has talked about what he calls the ‘layers of consciousness’. The first layer in this is the primitive-like limbic system, which governs emotion, memories and arousal. The second layer is the cortex layer, which governs higher-level thinking. Musk says that this cortex layer is primarily to appease the limbic system so is limited in its capacity. The third layer, which Musk proposes to add, would be an AI layer which would immensely boost a person’s cognitive abilities.
One thing Elon Musk likes to talk about is the difference in bandwidth between organic and digital machines. We all know that computers, especially new ones, can download, share and edit files incredibly fast. On the other hand, people take what feels like ages to get through a novel or television series. Now consider sharing a novel. A computer can simply send the file in a matter of minutes at most, whereas people can take hours to read it aloud. This lack of ability to communicate at fast speeds means that learning is severely limited, which is why AI that is months old can beat players that have multiple years’ experience. Such a system will, therefore, have a large RAM capacity as well as the other necessary electronic components.
“If you can’t beat them, join them”
This popular phrase is one that is very applicable to AI and neural lace. Musk, like many others, conjectures that we cannot beat AI but they can certainly beat us. In this case, there are a few outcomes that aren’t too terrible. Either we become domesticated creatures of intrigue, such as zoo creatures or pets, or we co-exist with AI. In the latter case, we may be considered like ants; AI would not care for us and would destroy us if it made their lives more convenient. Alternatively, and ideally, we instead have a symbiotic relationship where we bring the AI into a native platform, a digital layer in our cognition. This ultimate goal suggests that AI will indeed be a focus of the announcement.
What we know about the Neuralink announcement from job applications
Neuralink.com is unfortunately rather bare. All that can be found is the landing page and the 404 error page. What we do see is a list of job listings that link to another site, lever.co. By clicking on all these listings we can read each listing’s job description to gain a little bit more insight.
From the materials engineer application, we see the engineers are working to create ‘high density, reliable neural interfaces that are at the ground level of brain-computer-interfaces.’ They also need to ‘integrate new materials into assembly and manufacturing processes,’ and do some ‘electroplating, paste formulation, and surface modifications.’ On top of this, there are also electrical and electrochemical tests.
Optical engineers must ‘develop custom optics and imaging systems used directly in our surgical robot, and associated consumables manufacturing systems. These systems are responsible for everything from sub-micron conventional imaging to laser scanning imaging to non-imaging optical power delivery.’
Their senior mechanical engineer’s job is to ‘design and produce hardware solutions for our brain-machine interface devices, including surgical robotics, automation, microfabrication.’
Roboticist software engineers ‘integrate actuated devices with microelectromechanical systems as well as novel surgical procedures. These applications place strong emphasis on high-precision, high-repeatability mechanical motion, as well as high reliability and fail-safe design. You will be responsible for writing software and making sure your code works on an actual robot and not just simulation.’
Their ideal electrical engineer should be ‘experienced, hands-on hardware engineer for systems design and integration. This is a unique role perfect for someone who is interested in owning advanced projects and not only working on incremental changes. You will have the opportunity to do all phases of board design (part selection, schematic design, layout, and bring-up) as well as work closely with chip designers, robotics, and microfabrication experts for system integration.’
Other than this, their equipment engineer will work with systems which will include ‘high vacuum systems, pumping systems, associated valves, manifolds, and control systems, corrosive and toxic gas delivery systems.’
Overall, it appears that Neuralink is working on some brand-new robotic surgery techniques that rely at least to some extent on computer vision. We already know that Neuralink has had permits for animal testing for durability purposes since 2017, the job listings suggest that the process is ongoing. What is interesting is that they have decided to use microelectromechanical (MEMS) systems for their neural lace. These systems comprise of tiny integrated devices that are made of both electrical and mechanical components. In short, the neural lace can move!
What should we expect from the Neuralink announcement?
Coming after news that an organisation has managed to create direct brain-brain communication with subjects over 8000km away, a neural lace doesn’t sound as fictional as it once did. Whilst it’s extremely unlikely, per Musk’s own admission, that we will see the real neural lace, or even a design prototype, we are likely to see some physical device. More than likely the announcement will focus on healing those with brain damage, perhaps with a test subject showing off the technology. This announcement was promised as ‘months away’ last year so is considerably delayed. Though this is typical for Elon, it is also typical that the delay is well worth it. Whatever is revealed, it is sure to be nothing short of amazing!