Tonight, Elon Musk has scheduled an event where he intends to unveil his plans for Neuralink, a startup company he announced back in 2017, then went silent on. If you go to the Neuralink website now, all you’ll find is a vague description of its goal to develop an “ultra-high-bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers.” These interfaces have been under development for a while, typically under the monicker of brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs. And, while there have been some notable successes in the academic-research world, there’s a notable lack of products on the market.
The slow progress comes, in part, because a successful BCI has to tackle multiple hard problems and, in part, because the regulatory and market conditions are challenging. Ahead of tonight’s announcement, we’ll take a look at all of these and then see how Musk and the people who advise him have decided to tackle them.
A series of problems
An effective BCI means figuring out how to get the nervous system to communicate with digital hardware. Doing so requires solving three problems, which I’ll call reading, coding, and feedback. We’ll go through each of these below.