Neural lace made headlines this month with Elon Musk launching Neuralink, a medical research company that aims to merge the human brain with intelligent computers.
And while this sounds like it's pulled from the pages of a Sci-Fi novel, neural lace could be the next advancement in the field of AI.
See also: 10 Elon Musk ideas that aren't so crazy.
What is neural lace?
At its most basic form, neural lace is an ultra-thin mesh that can be implanted in the skull, forming a collection of electrodes capable of monitoring brain function. It creates an interface between the brain and the machine.
To insert neural lace, a tiny needle containing the rolled up mesh is placed inside the skull and the mesh is injected. As the mesh leaves the needle it unravels, spanning the brain.
Gradually, the lace will be accepted as part of the brain, and will even move with it as it grows or very slightly changes size.
Researchers working with neural lace have tested the mesh-like structure on live mice with few negative impacts reported once full autopsies have been performed.
What can neural lace be used for?
It's thought that neural lace could treat neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and other life-altering brain disorders.
According to The Smithsonian, neural lace could be used by the US military, via the US Air Force’s Cyborg cell programme, 'which focuses on small-scale electronics for the performance enhancement of cells'.
Similar practices could help people with missing limbs use 'connected' artificial body parts unassisted, using only brain power. Neural lace could potentially help someone with a neurodegenerative condition regain their ability to eat, walk and even talk.
Neuroscience startup Kernel hopes to produce widely available implants that sufferers of neurological conditions such as Parkinsons and Alzheimers's disease can buy.
Engineers at Kernel, which was founded in 2016, want to better understand the human brain and why brain cells fail, causing chronic neurodegenerative diseases. Its founder Bryan Johnson has committed more than $100 million of his own money to create interfaces between humans and computing devices.
In an interview with The Verge, Johnson said: "We know if we put a chip in the brain and release electrical signals that we can ameliorate symptoms of Parkinson's. This has been done for spinal cord pain, obesity, anorexia… what hasn’t been done is the reading and writing of neural code."
But while its benefits appear obvious in the medical field, beyond that the possibilities of mapping brain activity and even thoughts could see the relationship between human and machine get a lot closer.
Ultimately, neural lace could enable people to communicate with computers, even making it possible to upload of download thoughts to and from an intelligent computer.
If the mesh is inserted and accepted by the brain, the brain would essentially be able to wirelessly connect to a computer, providing an interface between your brain and a computer.
What is Elon Musk's Neuralink?
Musk has a well-documented history with artificial intelligence. In September 2016, Elon Musk, along with Reid Hoffman, Jessica Livingston and Peter Thiel (and others) gave his support to OpenAI, a non-profit AI research organisation working towards 'friendly AI'.
Open AI's 'friendly AI' is essentially artificial intelligence that will benefit humans and create a standardised approach to AI creation and deployment.
Neuralink is Musk's latest venture and according to The Wall Street Journal, it aims to connect computers to your brain through the use of neural lace. It is suggested that Musk wants to ensure that humans can keep up with technology in the midst of rapid AI development.
This isn't the first time Musk has mentioned neural lace, having previously stated that it could stop humans from becoming 'house cats' to artificial intelligence.
But given Neuralink is a brand new company, with little supporting information, we can only speculate on Musk's next steps.
We do know that Musk has spoken about a human-computer interface before. At the World Government Summit in Dubai in February he said: "Over time I think we will probably see a closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence."
Later adding that "it's mostly about the bandwidth, the speed of the connection between your brain and the digital version of yourself, particularly output."
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