Wish a firmware upgrade could make you smarter? That's Elon Musk's new goal

Elon Musk's new medical-research firm, Neuralink, is working on ways to help the human brain keep up with AI.

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Tesla Motors and SpaceX boss Elon Musk says Neuralink will explore software on implantable devices for the human brain.

Image: James Leynse

Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk has created another out-there venture called Neuralink, which will develop tech to enhance human brain capacity.

Details of Musk's new medical research company were reported by The Wall Street Journal on Monday. Musk plans to reveal more details in a piece on waitbutwhy.com, possibly next week. While the entrepreneur clearly has enough on his plate with new Tesla models, SpaceX, and philanthropy projects, he says the "existential risk is too high not to" to launch Neuralink.

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The company will explore software on implantable devices for the human brain, which would ultimately help people's intellect advance alongside artificial intelligence rather than lag behind it.

Musk has previously referred to this direct brain-to-machine interface as "neural lace", which would help avoid the fate of humans becoming "house cats" to artificial intelligence. Back then he envisaged a brain-enhancing device that could be inserted through a person's jugular vein.

Musk, who has previously warned that artificial intelligence is an existential threat to humanity, last year described neural lace as an artificial-intelligence layer on the human brain.

One of the advantages of neural lace is that it would allow humans to communicate with computers without interference from a physical interface, such as information on a display. Musk hinted in January that his neural-lace concept would be launching soon.

Musk isn't alone in looking to artificial intelligence as a way to boost human intelligence. Braintree founder Bryan Johnson announced a $100m commitment to his firm Kernel to develop a "neural prosthetic" to enhance human intelligence.

Johnson noted that the market for his brain prosthetics could include cognitive enhancement and treatment of medical conditions.

DARPA is also exploring an implantable neural interface to boost bandwidth between the brain and networked computers. It's hoping to build systems that can communicate clearly with neurons in the human brain, but achieving it requires breakthroughs in neuroscience, synthetic biology, hardware, software, and clinical testing.

Musk's plan initially will focus on treating dangerous medical conditions, which could include epilepsy and depression disorders. In a similar vein, researchers recently showed how a brain-computer interface could help severely disabled people communicate with the outside world.

As TechCrunch notes, Neuralink's early focus on medical applications that extend existing technologies for treating neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's, could offer it a runway for its longer-term ambitions for enhancing the human brain.

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