Elon Musk’s team has been developing Neuralink mostly out of the public’s view for several years. When questioned about the project, Musk would often only give cryptic replies. Then, in July of 2019, Musk’s highly secretive project team live-streamed a long-awaited announcement that utterly shocked and amazed the world. Neuralink has the potential to reshape the entire global economy in many ways. So, what is Neuralink?
Ground-Breaking Transhumanist Technology
If you’re unfamiliar with the term transhumanism, it is often defined as using science and technology to radically change or augment the human body. Some popular examples of transhumanist technology available today would be cochlear implants, insulin pumps, pacemakers, and bionic prosthetics for amputees. These innovations in medical technology have radically reshaped the way patients with serious health issues are able to enjoy their lives. But, Neuralink is different. Much different.
Neuralink is a device that is implanted into the brain known as a brain-machine interface (BMI) or brain-computer interface (BCI). There are many different types of implantable or external BMIs currently in development. For instance, researchers at Washington State University created BrainNet, which uses an external network of electrodes in a special cap that users wear like a hat. BrainNet allowed three participants in the study to communicate information to one another without ever speaking a word or making a gesture. They sent the communications solely via their thoughts.
The BrainNet project is impressive on its own merits, but an implantable BMI like Neuralink goes beyond machine-assisted telepathy. With Neuralink, patients who have motor-function disabilities will soon conceivably be able to link the implant to their smartphones to allow them to connect to the IoT and control other devices using just their minds. Does this sound a little too far out? Well, at the end of the live-streamed announcement, Musk let it slip that they currently have a monkey in their lab using the device to control a computer.
How Neuralink Can Reshape the Economy
We know, your mind is reeling from this fascinating innovation in medical technology that will undoubtedly have profound effects on the health industry. But, how else can Neuralink reshape the economy? Well, the answer to that is even more mind-blowing and can have far-reaching macro and micro effects. To understand it fully, we should explore what exactly BMIs like Neuralink can and can’t (yet) do.
Even though up until just a few years ago they were considered simply Sci-Fi fantasy, the World Economic Forum has been studying the implications of BMIs for quite some time. As the article explores, another project—also from WSU—explored the capabilities of one person controlling the movements of another person via a BCI. Findings such as these raise some serious questions about the effects this type of technology will have on the world.
Imagine giving a stockbroker the ability to make a trade online simply by thinking about it. How would that change the way stocks are traded? What about the concern that swings in the market might more closely mimic the emotional swings of investors and traders? Would there need to be rules in place to ensure volatility in the market isn’t a result of this technology?
Let’s dig a little deeper on this topic into some of the micro effects of Neuralink on production. If things can be controlled with the mind, the production of various things we used to manually control things could cease. For example, once you can control your home lights with your mind, there is no longer a need to produce light switches.
Starting your car with Neuralink would mean we no longer need to produce car keys, key chains, or maybe even car alarms. How about no longer needing a keyboard and mouse for your computer. A remote for your TV. The examples go on and on.
Finally, even though it is still considered to be far-off in the future (for now), how can BMIs change the current education system? Imagine when we are able to instantly access and interpret information from the internet directly into our brains. Not in the cliche way, like learning Kung Fu instantly as shown in the movie The Matrix, because that would require your body having muscle memory too, which we just can’t mimic with a brain implant. Rather, it would be more like researching any topic instantly which is either sent to your brain or to a nearby device. While Neuralink doesn’t explicitly promise this ability, the device they have created could someday evolve to have this capability.
FinTech Will Never Be The Same
No matter which way you look at it, in addition to the mind-blowing new capabilities humans will soon have by integrating our brains with machines, the opportunities for new markets in this area advance nearly every day. The creation of new products and devices to connect, new services to offer, and new areas to explore are just around the corner.
Neuralink and other BMI devices will dramatically alter the way the world connects to the internet and to one another. It is important that we begin to explore the ways the world will change and prepare our political and economic policies to reflect this new age of technology.
Authored by: Artur Meyster Artur Meyster is the CTO of Career Karma (YC W19), an online marketplace that matches career switchers with coding bootcamps. He is also the host of the Breaking Into Startups podcast, which features people with non-traditional backgrounds who broke into tech.