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Pulse 12: Neuralink’s neural lace and Facebook's telepathic brain implants

Giulio Prisco Pulse Newsletter

Telepathic Eye

Welcome to this new issue of Pulse, your weekly newsletter focused on human enhancement today and tomorrow, brought to you by Thrivous!

The most interesting recent news headlines related to human enhancement continue to be centered on brain interfacing technology. Once again, Elon Musk’s Neuralink is all over the press, but your favorite social network is also in the race to develop the interfaces that will link your brain to the cloud, someday soon. Read below about the new Neuralink information disclosed by Musk and his team, and Facebook’s plans for artificial telepathy.

All seems to indicate that technological telepathy enabled by brain implants with wireless access to the cloud could become a reality sooner than we think, and perhaps the next decade will be the golden age of neurotech. However, it is always wise to pause a moment before believing often over-hyped claims and holding too great expectations - too much too soon - that could be painfully frustrated by facts. Therefore, read also this sobering MIT Technology Review commentary on both Musk’s and Facebook’s plans. “It’s not crazy to believe there could be some very interesting brain-computer interfaces in the future,” concludes the editor. “But that future is not as close at hand.”

Toward genetic treatment of blindness. Researchers led by UCSD have found ways to use the the gene-editing technique CRISPR/Cas9 to reverse retinitis pigmentosa - a group of inherited vision disorders caused by numerous mutations in more than 60 genes - and restore visual function in laboratory mice. The research work, published in Cell Research, documents how the CRISPR/Cas9 technique permits reprogramming genetic switches that play a key role in the development of the disease. According to the scientists, human clinical trials could be planned soon after completion of preclinical research.

A pacemaker for memory. Scientists led by a team at the University of Pennsylvania have developed a pacemaker-like approach to enhance memory, the NYT reports. The research paper, published in Current Biology, has been hailed by DARPA, which funds cognitive stimulation research, as a breakthrough. The paper shows that targeted electrical stimulation from implanted electrodes can “modulate neural encoding states and subsequent memory outcomes.” In other words, the researchers made important advances toward understanding where and how electric stimulation should be applied to improve memory.

Advance toward better understanding of molecular information traffic in the brain. Researchers at Utrecht University have discovered a protein that may be the crucial traffic regulator for the transport of vital molecules inside nerve cells. The discovery could permit a better understanding of the development of neural disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and eventually result in new therapeutic approaches. The study, published in Neuron, shows that microtubule-associated protein 2 (MAP2) is the driving force behind molecular transport within axons, the conduits that exchange information between neurons.

Musk starts unveiling plans for Neuralink brain interfacing. Elon Musk confirmed that, besides running Tesla Motors and SpaceX, he will personally run Neuralink Corp., a startup that aims to merge computers with brains so humans could one day engage in “consensual telepathy,” WSJ reports. The Neuralink website is now live, with a short mission statement - “Neuralink is developing ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers” - and a list of positions to be filled. According to Musk’s plans, Neuralink technology would first target therapeutic applications and then, in about a decade, move on to telepathic enhancements for everyone. The ultimate goal is merging humans with Artificial Intelligences (AI) before the AIs become way smarter than us, and perhaps hostile.

The coming “Wizard Era” of neural lace. The WSJ story on Neuralink is based on a long review (almost a neuroscience text) published in Wait but Why. Writer Tim Urban is persuaded that Musk’s new vision eclipses Tesla and SpaceX: “Neuralink wants to redefine what future humans will be.” The last part of the review has the most complete coverage of Neuralink appeared so far, with a list of staff and an in-depth interview with Musk and his team. Of course there are lots of challenges on Neuralink’s path (“how easy does colonizing Mars seem right now”) but, fast-forwarding to the future, Musk sees techno-magic migrating into our brain in a “Wizard Era” (think 2052) with “neural lace” brain implants and wireless telepathy for everyone, and then “eventually figuring out some way to be symbiotic and merge with AI.”

Meanwhile, Facebook is “just getting started” with impressive advances in brain interfacing. Elon Musk is a visionary, but Mark Zuckerberg is also a visionary, with plenty of cash to back his visions. The creator of Facebook revealed that the company is developing a system that will let users type straight from the brain five times faster than typing on the phone, and confidently predicted that brain interfacing technology will advance to the point of allowing Facebook users to share thoughts and feelings, just like we share photos and videos today. At Facebook’s annual developer conference F8, former DARPA Director Regina Dugan, now Engineering VP at Facebook, confirmed that her team is developing systems that demonstrate the capability to type at 100 words per minute by decoding neural activity devoted to speech, adding new haptic systems under development could allow people to hear through the skin. “And we’re just getting started,” she concluded. Dugan’s F8 talk starts at about 1h:8min in the F8 Day 2 video.

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