Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future
Last month, I got a phone call.
Okay maybe that’s not exactly how it happened, and maybe those weren’t his exact words. But after learning about the new company Elon Musk was starting, I’ve come to realize that that’s exactly what he’s trying to do.
When I wrote about Tesla and SpaceX, I learned that you can only fully wrap your head around certain companies by zooming both way, way in and way, way out. In, on the technical challenges facing the engineers, out on the existential challenges facing our species. In on a snapshot of the world right now, out on the big story of how we got to this moment and what our far future could look like.
Not only is Elon’s new venture—Neuralink—the same type of deal, but six weeks after first learning about the company, I’m convinced that it somehow manages to eclipse Tesla and SpaceX in both the boldness of its engineering undertaking and the grandeur of its mission. The other two companies aim to redefine what future humans will do—Neuralink wants to redefine what future humans will be.
The mind-bending bigness of Neuralink’s mission, combined with the labyrinth of impossible complexity that is the human brain, made this the hardest set of concepts yet to fully wrap my head around—but it also made it the most exhilarating when, with enough time spent zoomed on both ends, it all finally clicked. I feel like I took a time machine to the future, and I’m here to tell you that it’s even weirder than we expect.
But before I can bring you in the time machine to show you what I found, we need to get in our zoom machine—because as I learned the hard way, Elon’s wizard hat plans cannot be properly understood until your head’s in the right place.
So wipe your brain clean of what it thinks it knows about itself and its future, put on soft clothes, and let’s jump into the vortex.
___________ContentsPart 1: The Human Colossus
Part 2: The Brain
Part 3: Brain-Machine Interfaces
Part 4: Neuralink’s Challenge
Part 5: The Wizard Era
Part 6: The Great Merger
Part 1: The Human Colossus
600 million years ago, no one really did anything, ever.
The problem is that no one had any nerves. Without nerves, you can’t move, or think, or process information of any kind. So you just had to kind of exist and wait there until you died.
But then came the jellyfish.
The jellyfish was the first animal to figure out that nerves were an obvious thing to make sure you had, and it had the world’s first nervous system—a nerve net.
The jellyfish’s nerve net allowed it to collect important information from the world around it—like where there were objects, predators, or food—and pass that information along, through a big game of telephone, to all parts of its body. Being able to receive and process information meant that the jellyfish could actually react to changes in its environment in order to increase the odds of life going well, rather than just floating aimlessly and hoping for the best.
A little later, a new animal came around who had an even cooler idea.
The flatworm figured out that you could get a lot more done if there was someone in the nervous system who was in charge of everything—a nervous system boss. The boss lived in the flatworm’s head and had a rule that all nerves in the body had to report any new information directly to him. So instead of arranging themselves in a net shape, the flatworm’s nervous system all revolved around a central highway of messenger nerves that would pass messages back and forth between the boss and everyone else:
The flatworm’s boss-highway system was the world’s first central nervous system, and the boss in the flatworm’s head was the world’s first brain.....MUCH, MUCH MORE
The idea of a nervous system boss quickly caught on with others, and soon, there were thousands of species on Earth with brains.
As time passed and Earth’s animals started inventing intricate new body systems, the bosses got busier.
You won't believe how much more
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