This 20-person biotech firm just beat Elon Musk’s Neuralink in getting the OK to test brain chip implants in humans with paralysis

 brain scan COVID
  • Synchron has beat rival Neuralink to human trials of its “implantable brain computer interface.”
  • The chip will be studied in six patients later this year as a possible aid for paralyzed people.
  • Elon Musk previously used Neuralink’s chip in a monkey, which then played video games with its mind.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A competitor to Elon Musk’s Neuralink has edged out its rival in getting permission for a trial to implant chips in people.

The brain data transfer company Synchron has gotten the green light from the FDA to begin a human trial of its brain chip, according to a press release issued Wednesday.

The company will begin what is called an early feasibility study later this year at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. The study will examine the safety and efficacy of its flagship product, known as the Stentrode motor neuroprosthesis, in patients with severe paralysis. Synchron is hopeful that its device will allow the patients to use brain data to “control digital devices and achieve improvements in functional independence.” The study, called the COMMAND trial, will enroll six patients.

The FDA’s go-ahead “reflects years of safety testing performed in conjunction with FDA,” Synchron CEO Thomas Oxley said in the release.

“We have worked together to pave a pathway forward, towards the first commercial approval for a permanently implanted [brain-computer interface] for the treatment of paralysis,” he added in the release. “We are thrilled to finally be launching a U.S. clinical trial this year.”

The company says its device will allow patients to “wirelessly control external devices by thinking about moving their limbs,” which can help with activities ranging from texting and emailing to online shopping and accessing telemedicine.

“Synchron’s north star is to achieve whole-brain data transfer,” Oxley continued. “Our first target is the motor cortex for treatment of paralysis, which represents a large unmet need for millions of people across the world, and market opportunity of $20B.”

The device gets to the brain via blood vessels in a minimally invasive procedure of around two hours that Synchron says is similar to the placement of stents in the heart. The company adds that the procedure can be done in “widely available angiography suites” and that there are no wires coming out of the body after the device is implanted.

Synchron also says there is no robotic assistance required for its procedure, unlike competitor Neuralink, which previously unveiled a robot designed to implant its chips.

Synchron currently has a separate clinical trial underway outside of the US, with four patients in Australia having already received the implant. The company published a study last year showing that the first two patients from this study were able to “control their devices to text and type through direct thought.”

Read more: 23 of the most promising healthcare startups of 2021, according to top VCs

Synchron competitor Neuralink made headlines in April when it released a video showing its chip at work in a monkey. The clip showed a macaque named Pager playing video games with its mind six weeks after receiving the implant in its brain.

Neuralink founder Elon Musk tweeted at the time that the company’s first device would “enable someone with paralysis to use a smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs.” In a subsequent tweet, Musk added that later versions of Neuralink’s products would succeed in “enabling, for example, paraplegics to walk again.”

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What needs to happen before we can upload our brains to a computer

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: In the “Black Mirror” episode “San Junipero,” Yorkie and Kelly meet and fall in love in a virtual afterlife. And in this world, the possibilities are endless: They can wear what they want, be in whatever decade they want, and die when they want, including never. This technology might actually be more realistic than finding the fountain of youth. So, will uploading your brain to a computer ever be possible?

Randal Koene: I’d be surprised and a bit dismayed if we didn’t have it within the century.

Narrator: The concept of uploading an entire human brain – thoughts, feelings, memories, the whole shebang – and running it on a computer is called whole brain emulation. And there are three main areas of technology that need to advance for it to be possible: scanning, processing power and memory, and environment. Let’s start with scanning, since researchers will have to start there too. The first bottleneck we’re gonna hit is the connectome. The connectome is a complete map of the brain, basically the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow for neuroscientists. Brains are wildly complex. Scientists have only been able to map the complete connectome of one creature, a nematode, and a nematode’s brain has about 302 neurons. A human brain has 86 billion, not to mention the 10,000 or so connections each neuron makes with other neurons. Our current brain-scanning tech, like MRIs and MEGs, just aren’t good enough to map them all out. There are other methods that could show us a clearer picture, but they tend to be destructive.

Koene: So, the idea there, once you’ve preserved a brain, then you can slice it very thin and observe everything that’s in there. You can reconstruct a lot of what’s in the brain from its structure.

Narrator: For living brains, the most promising scanning technology we’re looking at is electrodes with thousands of recording sites on them.

Koene: Now, it’s extremely invasive, in the sense that there’s a lot of surgery involved.

Narrator: These electrodes, when placed on precise areas on the brain, have the potential to show us thousands of neurons at a time.

Koene: Because every single site can record from multiple neurons and identify which neuron it is based on the specific shape of action response.

Narrator: Whichever way, the tech has to be capable of scanning and recording massive amounts of data. By massive, we mean zettas of pieces of information. And we don’t even know everything we’re looking for yet. Many neurotransmitters have yet to be discovered – very necessary pieces of the connectome puzzle. So even we have all the info, if we don’t know what we’re looking at, then…

Koene: It’s like a story that’s written in a book, but if nobody is reading it and nobody’s understanding the words, then it’s just black stuff on white stuff.

Narrator: Right now, each scanned neuron has to be interpreted by humans in real time, zettas of information slowly sorted by hand. If we even want to begin to read the connectome, advanced machine learning and data mining are gonna be pivotal.

Koene: Because otherwise you end up with systems where the learning, the training of that model, just tuning parameters, takes forever. Literally forever. More time than there is in the universe, just because of how exponentially that grows.

Narrator: Computer processing power has also shown smooth exponential growth over the past century or so. Similar can be said about computer memory. If the pattern continues, we’ll likely reach the necessary processing requirements fairly soon. But some experts worry we could be reaching the end of Moore’s law.

Koene: I also read that, and it also concerns me.

Narrator: Moore’s law at one point predicted that computer power doubles every 18 months. And in recent decades, these advances have slowed. If they come to a halt, our computers may never be fast enough to sort through the data.

Koene: It concerns me largely because of that big computational bottleneck that I mentioned earlier, the one where you’re trying to fit models, and fitting models is really, really hard.

Narrator: Once we get past that, then we just might be able to get an emulated brain running. One of these WBEs is called a SIM, or substrate-independent mind. The SIM would be an exact digital replica of the mind it was emulated from. And we’re actually pretty close to memory requirements, so we should have no problem storing SIMs once we’re able to create them. But where they’ll be stored is a little bit different than where they’ll live, and we do mean live. Would a SIM be conscious?

Koene: Yes.

Narrator: Yes. Simple answer.

Koene: That is the simple answer.

Narrator: And if a SIM is conscious, it’ll need to exist in a place and interact with things. In “Black Mirror,” the characters spend the rest of eternity in a luxurious beach town. Right now, our virtual reality capabilities aren’t good enough to create a paradise like that. To experience virtual reality in the way that humans experience actual reality, SIMs would need high-fidelity sensors and systems to sense the world around them. Graphics, at least, are constantly improving, thanks to the speed and size of the video-game industry. It’s the rest of the senses that will need major work, everything from tasting a rum and Coke to feeling the pain of a car accident. The bandwidth and signal complexity needed for this shouldn’t be underestimated. And while virtual reality isn’t the only option for a SIM, actual reality would still require a few upgrades. First, they’d need a robot avatar, and robots are generally really good at only one thing. One of the world’s most advanced humanoid robots’ claim to fame is its ability to climb stairs. Relatively impressive, but not even close to replicating the experience of having an actual human body. Virtual reality offers a human experience and more. In a digital world, SIMs could fly or teleport or even turn into a lion for a distinctly nonhuman experience. So, once we figure out the technical side of whole brain emulation, there’s still the philosophical part of the equation. Would that emulation still be you?

Koene: You have to be very careful about these scenarios when you paint them.

Narrator: The simple answer is: We’re not quite sure. Philosophers and scientists have debated, defined, and redefined the concept of “you” for centuries, and they’re still doing it.

Marya Schechtman: If you think there’s a difference between getting incinerated and having a replica made with a bunch of fake memories and really continuing to exist, tell me what that difference is.

Narrator: Either way, you or another you, a SIM is conscious, which adds a heaping helping of ethics to this dilemma. In the Amazon Prime show “Upload,” SIMs can be owned by human beings, giving them the right to delete their SIMs on a whim. Is this murder? Apparently not in the “Upload” universe, but it is a question we’ll need to answer in ours.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in September 2020.

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Max Hodak, the cofounder of Elon Musk’s Neuralink, departed the company ‘a few weeks ago’

elon musk neuralink
Neuralink CEO Elon Musk.

  • Neuralink cofounder Max Hodak said on Saturday he left the company “a few weeks ago.”
  • “I learned a ton there and remain a huge cheerleader for the company!” Hodak said on Twitter.
  • Founded in 2016, Neuralink has been building and testing a brain implant.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Elon Musk’s Neuralink cofounder Max Hodak on Saturday said he left the company a few weeks ago.

“I am no longer at Neuralink (as of a few weeks ago). I learned a ton there and remain a huge cheerleader for the company! Onward to new things,” Hodak, who was also president, said on Twitter.

Neuralink has been working on brain implants, along with the robotics needed to implant them. The company said its technology, which has been tested on monkeys, will be able to record or stimulate brain activity.

Hodak on Saturday didn’t say why he left the company. But he replied to another user who said it seemed “too early” for Hodak to leave, as Neuralink doesn’t have a “single product on the market.” Hodak said, “same.”

Insider has reached out to Hodak and Neuralink for comment.

Hodak and Musk appeared together in 2019 to announce that Neuralink had implanted a chip into a monkey, allowing it to control a computer with its brain.

During the announcement, Musk said a monkey had “been able to control a computer” using the chip. Hodak said: “I didn’t realize we were running that result today, but there it goes.”

Musk in February said a monkey with the implant could now play a video game. Monkeys have been able to control computer cursors with their brains since 2002, scientists told Insider afterwards.

Founded in 2016, the company is based in Fremont, California. Its filings with the California secretary of state list Musk as CEO, but don’t include Hodak’s name.

Hodak studied biomedical engineering at Duke University, according to his LinkedIn profile.

In early April, Hodak said someone could “probably build” a real-world Jurassic Park, “if we wanted to.”

A Twitter user on Saturday asked him: “What’s next?” “Not Jurassic Park,” Hodak replied.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Elon Musk’s Neuralink could transition from implanting chips in monkeys to humans within the year

elon musk
Elon Musk, founder and chief engineer of SpaceX speaks at the 2020 Satellite Conference and Exhibition March 9, 2020 in Washington, DC.

  • Elon Musk on Thursday released a video described as showing a monkey playing video games with its mind.
  • Earlier in the year, Musk said Neuralink plans to initiate human trials by the end of the year.
  • In 2019, Musk said it would be testing the AI brain chips on humans by the end of 2020.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk released a video showing how his company Neuralink- a brain-computer-interface company – had advanced its technology to the point that the chip could allow a monkey to play video games with its mind.

Neuralink could transition from operating on monkeys to human trials within the year, if the startup meets a previous prediction from Musk. In February, he said the company planned to launch human trials by the end of the year after first mentioning his work with the monkey implants.

At the time, the CEO gave the timeline in response to another user’s request to join human trials for the product, which is designed to implant artificial intelligence into human brains as well as potentially cure neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Read more: Rivian uses one of Elon Musk’s favorite job-interview techniques to determine which candidates stand out from the pack

“Neuralink is working super hard to ensure implant safety & is in close communication with the FDA,” Musk said on Twitter in response to another user’s request to join human trials. “If things go well, we might be able to do initial human trials later this year.”

Musk has made similar statements in the past about his project, which was launched in 2016. He said in 2019 that it would be testing on humans by the end of 2020.

There has been a recent flurry of information on the project. Prior to the recent video release on Twitter, Musk had made an appearance on the social media site, Clubhouse, and provided some additional updates on Neuralink back in February.

During his Clubhouse visit, Musk detailed how the company had implanted the chip in the monkey’s brain and talked about how it could play video games using only its mind.

Neuralink has tested the chips on other animals. Last year, the company implanted an AI brain chip into a pig.

See also: Elon Musk’s move to Texas is a publicity stunt that reveals how Tesla is maturing as an automaker

The chip implants can read and write brain activity. Musk claims the brain-machine interface could do anything from cure paralysis to give people telepathic powers, referring to the device as “a Fitbit in your skull.”

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Elon Musk’s Neuralink scientists are not the first to get a monkey to control a computer with its mind

GettyImages 1229892421
Elon Musk.

  • Elon Musk’s Neuralink showed off its technology allowing a monkey to play video games with its mind.
  • Scientists have been able to get monkeys to control computer cursors via neural interfaces since 2002.
  • It’s an important test of Neuralink’s technology, but not a revolutionary piece of science.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

This week, Neuralink, a company founded by Elon Musk that specialises in neural interface technology, unveiled a fairly astonishing example of its work.

In a video released Thursday, the company showed off how far its come testing its technology on primates. In the video, a macaque monkey named Pager, which Neuralink claims has had a chip implanted in his brain for six weeks, is able to play video games like Pong purely via the chip. Playing the games correctly meant Pager was rewarded with a sip of banana smoothie.

This is, objectively, pretty amazing. As Musk put it in an excited tweet on Thursday: “A monkey is literally playing a video game telepathically using a brain chip!!”

Perhaps even more amazing: monkeys have been playing video games with their minds for almost 20 years.

“Brain-control of computer cursors by monkeys is not new,” Professor Andrew Jackson of the University of Newcastle told Insider, adding that the first comparable demonstrations of technology like Neuralink’s took place in 2002.

A group of researchers in 2002 were able to show they could get a monkey to move a cursor on a computer screen at will, noting at the time that the technology could be used to help paralyzed people control screens in a similar way.

Jackson added the idea behind the technology dates back as far as the 1960s. In 1969, a researcher called Eberhard Fetz connected a needle on a meter to a single neuron in a monkey’s brain, and was able to train the monkey to move that needle using only its brain activity.

Neuralink, which was founded in 2016, is developing a microchip, which theoretically, would be implanted in a person’s skull, from which wires would fan out into their brain. These wires would be able to record brain activity, as well as stimulate areas of the brain.

The idea is that these chips could help study and treat neurological diseases and conditions in the near term. In the long term, Musk says they form part of his ideal of a “symbiosis” between human consciousness and AI (although experts have frequently expressed skepticism about this part).

Musk has been hyping up the monkey for years – but neuroscientists haven’t been that impressed

Musk first gave the world a hint about Neuralink’s tests on monkeys during a streamed presentation of the company’s designs in 2019.

“A monkey has been able to control a computer with its brain, just FYI,” he said, appearing to take Neuralink president Max Kodak by surprise with the announcement. “The monkey’s going to come out of the bag,” Musk joked.

Andrew Hires, an assistant professor of neurobiology at the University of California, told Insider in 2019 that he was not surprised Neuralink had been able to achieve that result – and accurately predicted the kind of telepathic monkey computer-usage which Neuralink showed off in its video on Friday.

“The monkey is not surfing the internet. The monkey is probably moving a cursor to move a little ball to try to match a target,” Hires said. This pretty well exactly matches one of the games Pager was shown playing in the video released Thursday.

Musk started to hype up the monkey again earlier this year. “We’ve already got a monkey with a wireless implant in their skull … who can play video games using his mind,” he said during an interview on Clubhouse on January 31.

Musk is a canny marketer, and he’s very familiar with using his own peculiar brand of fame to merchandise and advertise his companies. It’s worth noting that at the end of the video with a call for people to apply for jobs at Neuralink – making for an ingenious recruitment strategy.

Neuralink is still doing new things, and the monkey is important

While neuroscientists have said the underlying science of getting a monkey to play video games with its mind is not revolutionary, they have praised the engineering of Neuralink’s wireless chip.

Speaking to Insider in September 2020 (following a presentation in which Neuralink showed off its technology working after being implanted in the brain of a pig) Professor Jackson said the development of any neural interface technology that doesn’t require wires to protrude out of the skin is a good thing, as it reduces the risk of infection.

“Just from a welfare aspect for the animals, I think if you can do experiments with something that doesn’t involve wires coming through the skin, that’s going to improve the welfare of animals,” he said, adding that further down the road it could have benefits for humans as well.

Elon Musk Neuralink pigs
Elon Musk showed off Neuralink’s tech in a pig in August 2020.

Responding to the video released on Thursday of Pager the monkey, Jackson said while it’s not earth-shattering, it is an important proof of concept.

“I certainly do not mean to criticise them for demonstrating something that has been done before. It is a sensible way to validate any new technology. If you invent a new telescope, it makes sense to first point it where you know what you will see. So they are following a very sensible route to validate their device,” Jackson said.

Rylie Green, a bioengineering researcher at Imperial College London, told Insider: “The best thing I can see from that video is that the macaque is freely moving. There’s also no visible package connected to it. I would say that is definitely progress – not super innovative but a nice positive step forward.”

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Everything you need to know about Neuralink, Elon Musk’s company that wants to put microchips in people’s brains

Elon Musk
Elon Musk.

  • Neuralink is one of Elon Musk’s strange and futuristic portfolio of companies.
  • It’s developing neural interface technology — a.k.a. putting microchips into people’s brains.
  • The technology could help study and treat neurological disorders. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Tesla billionaire Elon Musk is known for high-profile companies like Tesla and SpaceX, but the billionaire also has a handful of unusual ventures. One them, he says, he started to one day achieve “symbiosis” between the human brain and artificial intelligence.

Neuralink is Musk’s neural interface technology company. Simply put, it is building technology that could be embedded in a person’s brain, where it could both record brain activity and potentially stimulate it.

While Musk likes to talk up his futuristic vision for the technology, merging human consciousness with AI, the tech has plenty of near-term potential medical applications such as the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

Here’s everything you need to know about Neuralink:

Neuralink was quietly founded under the radar in 2016.

Although Musk has touted the near-term applications of Neuralink, he often links the company up with his fears about artificial intelligence. Musk has said that he thinks humanity will be able to achieve a “symbiosis” with artificial intelligence.

Musk told “Artificial Intelligence” podcast host Lex Fridman in 2019 that Neuralink was “intended to address the existential risk associated with digital superintelligence.”

“We will not be able to be smarter than a digital supercomputer, so, therefore, if you cannot beat ’em, join ’em,” Musk added.

Musk has made lots of fanciful claims about the enhanced abilities Neuralink could confer. In 2020 Musk said people would “save and replay memories” like in “Black Mirror,” or telepathically summon their car.

Experts have expressed doubts about these claims. 

In September 2020, Insider spoke to neuroscientist Prof. Andrew Jackson of the University of Newcastle. He said: “Not to say that that won’t happen, but I think that the underlying neuroscience is much more shaky.”

He added: “We understand much less about how those processes work in the brain, and just because you can predict the position of the pig’s leg when it’s walking on a treadmill, that doesn’t then automatically mean you’ll be able to read thoughts.”

Another professor, Andrew Hires, told Insider in August 2020 that Musk’s claims about merging with AI is where he goes off into “aspirational fantasy land.”

Neuralink is developing two bits of equipment. The first is a chip that would be implanted in a person’s skull, with electrodes fanning out into their brain.

Neuralink chip
The chip sits behind the ear, while electrodes are threaded into the brain.

The chip Neuralink is developing is about the size of a coin, and would be embedded in a patients’ skull. From the chip an array of tiny wires, each roughly 20 times thinner than a human hair, fan out into the patient’s brain.

The wires are equipped with 1,024 electrodes which are able to both monitor brain activity  and, theoretically, electrically stimulate the brain. This data is all transmitted wirelessly via the chip to computers where it can be studied by researchers.

 

The second is a robot that could automatically implant the chip.

Neuralink surgical robot
Neuralink surgical robot.

The robot would work by using a stiff needle to punch the flexible wires emanating from a Neuralink chip into a person’s brain, a bit like a sewing machine.

Neuralink released a video showcasing the robot in January 2021.

 

Musk has claimed the machine could make implanting Neuralink’s electrodes as easy as LASIK eye surgery. While this is a bold claim, neuroscientists previously told Insider in 2019 that the machine has some very promising features.

Professor Andrew Hires highlighted a feature, which would automatically adjust the needle to compensate for the movement of a patient’s brain, as the brain moves during surgery along with a person’s breathing and heartbeat.

The robot as it currently stands is eight feet tall, and while Neuralink is developing its underlying technology its design was crafted by Woke Studios.

In 2020, the company showed off one of its chips working in a pig named Gertrude during a live demo.

Gertrude Neuralink
The Neuralink device in Gertrude’s brain transmitted data live during the demo as she snuffled around.

The demonstration was proof of concept, and showed how the chip was able to accurately predict the positioning of Gertrude’s limbs when she was walking on a treadmill, as well as recording neural activity when the pig snuffled about for food. Musk said the pig had been living with the chip embedded in her skull for two months.

 

“In terms of their technology, 1,024 channels is not that impressive these days, but the electronics to relay them wirelessly is state-of-the-art, and the robotic implantation is nice,” said Professor Andrew Jackson, an expert in neural interfaces at Newcastle University.

“This is solid engineering but mediocre neuroscience,” he said.

Jackson told Insider following the 2020 presentation that the wireless relay from the Neuralink chip could potentially have a big impact on the welfare of animal test subjects in science, as most neural interfaces currently in use on test animals involve wires poking out through the skin.

“Even if the technology doesn’t do anything more than we’re able to do at the moment — in terms of number of channels or whatever — just from a welfare aspect for the animals, I think if you can do experiments with something that doesn’t involve wires coming through the skin, that’s going to improve the welfare of animals,” he said.

Although none of the tech Neuralink has showcased so far has been particularly groundbreaking, neuroscientists are impressed with how well it’s been able to bundle up existing technologies.

Elon Musk Neuralink pigs
Elon Musk presenting during the 2020 demo.

“All the technology that he showed has been already developed in some way or form, […] Essentially what they’ve done is just package it into a nice little form that then sends data wirelessly,” Dr. Jason Shepherd, an associate professor of neurobiology at the University of Utah, told Insider following the 2020 demonstration.

“If you just watched this presentation, you would think that it’s coming out of nowhere, that Musk is doing this magic, but in reality, he’s really copied and pasted a lot of work from many, many labs that have been working on this,” he added.

Elon Musk has boasted multiple times that the company has put the chip in a monkey, though neuroscientists aren’t that blown away by this.

squirrel monkey
Not pictured: the monkey Neuralink has implanted a microchip into.

Elon Musk excitedly announced in Neuralink’s 2019 presentation that the company had successfully implanted its chip into a monkey. “A monkey has been able to control a computer with its brain, just FYI,” he said, which appeared to take Neuralink president Max Hodak by surprise. “I didn’t realize we were running that result today, but there it goes,” said Hodak.

Musk re-iterated the claim in February 2021 with a little extra detail. 

“We’ve already got a monkey with a wireless implant in their skull, and the tiny wires, who can play video games using his mind,” Musk said during a long and wide-ranging interview on Clubhouse.

 Neuroscientists speaking to Insider in 2019 said that while the claim might grab the attention of readers, they did not find it surprising or even particularly impressive.

“The monkey is not surfing the internet. The monkey is probably moving a cursor to move a little ball to try to match a target,”said Professor Andrew Hires, an assistant professor of neurobiology at the University of California.

Implanting primates with neural-brain interfaces that allow them to control objects on screens has been done before, and is expected in any research that aims to one day implant technology into human brains.

Elon Musk has said human testing could start by the end of this year, but he also said that last year.

Elon Musk

Elon Musk said during an appearance on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast in May 2020 that Neuralink could begin testing on human subjects within a year. He made the same claim during an interview on Clubhouse in February 2021.

Previously in 2019 Musk said the company hoped to get a chip into a human patient by the end of 2020.

Experts voiced doubt about this timeline at the time, as part of safety testing a neural interface device involves implanting it in an animal test subject (normally a primate) and leaving it there for an extended amount of time to test its longevity — as any chip would have to stay in a human patient’s brain for a lifetime.

“You can’t accelerate that process. You just have to wait — and see how long the electrodes last. And if the goal is for these to last decades, it’s hard to imagine how you’re going to be able to test this without waiting long periods of time to see how well the devices perform,” Jacob Robinson, a neuroengineer at Rice University, told STAT News in 2019.

 

 

In the near-term, the uses of a chip in someone’s brain could be to treat neurological disorders like Parkinson’s.

Neuralink
Close-up footage of the needle on Neuralink’s brain surgery robot.

Improved neural interface technology like Neuralink’s could be used to better study and treat severe neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Prof. Andrew Hires told Insider another application could be allowing people to control robotic prostheses with their minds.

“The first application you can imagine is better mental control for a robotic arm for someone who’s paralyzed,” Hires said in a 2019 interview with Insider, saying that the electrodes in a patient’s brain could potentially reproduce the sensation of touch, allowing the patient to exert finer motor control over a prosthetic limb.

Elon Musk also says in the long-term the chip could be used to meld human consciousness with artificial intelligence – though experts are skeptical of this.

Elon Musk

Although Musk has touted the near-term applications of Neuralink, he often links the company up with his fears about artificial intelligence. Musk has said that he thinks humanity will be able to achieve “symbiosis with artificial intelligence” through 

Musk told “Artificial Intelligence” podcast host Lex Fridman in 2019 that Neuralink was “intended to address the existential risk associated with digital superintelligence.”

“We will not be able to be smarter than a digital supercomputer, so, therefore, if you cannot beat ’em, join ’em,” Musk added.

Musk has made lots of fanciful claims about the enhanced abilities Neuralink could confer. In 2020 Musk said people would “save and replay memories” like in “Black Mirror,” or telepathically summon their car.

Experts have expressed doubts about these claims. 

“Not to say that that won’t happen, but I think that the underlying neuroscience is much more shaky. We understand much less about how those processes work in the brain, and just because you can predict the position of the pig’s leg when it’s walking on a treadmill, that doesn’t then automatically mean you’ll be able to read thoughts,” said Prof. Andrew Jackson.

In 2019 Prof. Andrew Hires said Musk’s claims about merging with AI is where he goes off into “aspirational fantasy land.”

Musk’s also made dubious claims about its medical applications. At one point he also claimed the technology could “solve autism.”

During an appearance on the “Artificial Intelligence” podcast with Lex Fridman in November 2019, Elon Musk said Neuralink could in future “solve a lot of brain-related diseases,” and named autism and schizophrenia as examples.

Autism is classified as a developmental disorder, not a disease, and the World Health Organization describes schizophrenia as a mental disorder.

One neuroscientist told Insider there are big ethical problems with the idea of performing brain surgery for anything other than essential treatment.

Dr. Rylie Green of Imperial College London told Insider in 2019 that the notion of performing brain surgery on a healthy person is deeply troubling.

“To get any of these devices into your brain […] is very, very high-risk surgery,” she said. “People do it because they have severe limitations and there is a potential there to improve their life. Doing it for fun is not a great idea,” she added.

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Nearly a dozen major tech firms can trace their roots to PayPal. From Palantir to Tesla, here are the companies launched by members of the ‘PayPal Mafia.’

Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel, left, and Elon Musk.

  • Early employees of payments company PayPal went on to create nearly a dozen major tech startups after leaving the company.
  • The PayPal Mafia, as its early employees came to be known, were directly responsible for Tesla, SpaceX, LinkedIn, Yelp, and more. 
  • The latest company with PayPal roots to make a major splash is Palantir, the big data company that went public on the New York Stock Exchange in October. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Without PayPal, there may not have been Palantir. Or YouTube. Or SpaceX, LinkedIn, and Yelp. 

The payments company – launched as Confinity in 1998 by Peter Thiel, Max Levchin, and Luke Nosek – grew to become a Silicon Valley giant. It was acquired by eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion in a deal that altered Silicon Valley history and helped spawn the careers of some of tech’s most famous names.

The PayPal Mafia, as its early employees came to be known, have gone on to become venture capitalists, tech founders, and even a US ambassador

Here are the tech companies that may not have gotten their start without the success of PayPal. 

Secretive data company Palantir was founded in part by Peter Thiel, PayPal’s cofounder.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 01: Peter Thiel, Partner, Founders Fund, speaks at the New York Times DealBook conference on November 1, 2018 in New York City.
Peter Thiel.

When it was founded: 2003

What it does: Palantir creates software that manages and analyzes data. Its software helps other companies and agencies like law enforcement find patterns in large swaths of data.

How it’s related to PayPal: Thiel founded Palantir after PayPal’s sale to eBay, and the idea for the company was born out of Thiel’s experience dealing with credit card fraud at PayPal. 

Joe Lonsdale, who worked as a finance intern at PayPal while still in college at Stanford University, is also a Palantir cofounder. 

Affirm was launched by Max Levchin, a PayPal cofounder.

Max Levchin

When it was founded: 2013

What it does: Affirm offers instant lines of credit to customers shopping online, allowing them to buy a product and pay for it over time. The company raised a $500 million Series G round last month.

How it’s related to PayPal: Affirm is the brainchild of Max Levchin, one of the original PayPal founders. The company launched out of Levchin’s startup incubator, HVF — Levchin took over as CEO in 2014.

Levchin founded the company along with a team that includes Nathan Gettings, who also cofounded Palantir. 

Fertility tracking company Glow was also born out of Levchin’s startup incubator.

Max Levchin

When it was founded: 2013

What it does: Glow makes a family of apps that use data science to help track periods, ovulation, fertility, pregnancy, and children’s’ growth. 

How it’s related to PayPal: Glow was also founded in Levchin’s HVF startup incubator, and Levchin now serves as executive chairman. 

YouTube’s founders worked together at PayPal during the early days.

YouTube founders
YouTube founders Steve Chen, left, and Chad Hurley.

When it was founded: 2005

What it does: YouTube is a platform for hosting and sharing videos. It was sold to Google in November 2006.

How it’s related to PayPal: Founders Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim were all early employees at PayPal.

When PayPal sold to eBay for $1.5 billion, it sparked a “healthy competition” among the company’s alumni, early YouTube investor Roelof Botha told Business Insider earlier this year. When it came time for YouTube to sell, the team intentionally chose a price of $1.65 billion — 10% more than what eBay sold for. 

Elon Musk founded SpaceX after working at PayPal.

Elon Musk SpaceX Space X
Elon Musk.

When it was founded: 2002

What it does: The goal of SpaceX, short for Space Exploration Technologies, is to make space flight cheaper and eventually colonize Mars. 

How it’s related to PayPal: In 1999, Musk launched an online banking company called X.com. That company merged with Thiel’s Confinity in 2000, then became PayPal in 2001. Musk was briefly PayPal CEO before being replaced by Thiel. But when PayPal sold, Musk netted $165 million from the deal, which he used to start SpaceX. 

Musk was an early investor in and cofounder of Tesla.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk introduces the falcon wing door on the Model X electric sports utility vehicles during a presentation in Fremont..JPG
Elon Musk.

When it was founded: 2003

What it does: Tesla manufactures electric vehicles, batteries, and solar panels. 

How it’s related to PayPal: Musk was an early Tesla investor and cofounder. He became CEO in 2008

Musk launched The Boring Company after becoming irritated by Los Angeles traffic.

Boring Company Hawthorne tunnel
The Boring Company’s Hawthorne Tunnel.

When it was founded: 2016

What it does: The Boring Company builds underground tunnels with the intention of housing high-speed transit systems to reduce traffic in cities. 

How it’s related to PayPal: Musk initially proposed The Boring Company in a white paper in 2013 and launched the company three years later. 

Musk also created OpenAI and Neuralink.

Elon Musk

When they were founded: 2015 and 2016, respectively

What it does: OpenAI is an artificial intelligence research lab, while Neuralink’s goal is to make computers that can be implanted in people’s brains.

How it’s related to PayPal: Musk founded both companies to fight against what he sees as the dangers of AI.

LinkedIn was founded by early PayPal exec Reid Hoffman.

reid hoffman
Reid Hoffman.

When it was founded: 2002

What it does: LinkedIn is a social network for professionals. 

How it’s related to PayPal: Hoffman was an executive vice president at PayPal in its early days. He founded LinkedIn and initially served as its CEO before later becoming executive chairman. 

Yelp was founded by two early PayPal employees, Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons.

Jeremy Stoppelman
Jeremy Stoppelman.

When it was founded: 2004

What it does: Yelp is a platform for hosting reviews and recommendations about local businesses. 

How it’s related to PayPal: Stoppelman and Simmons met while working at PayPal in the early 2000s — Stoppelman came from X.com and served as vice president of technology while Simmons worked as an engineer. Levchin provided the initial investment in the company. 

Read the original article on Business Insider