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Elon Musk announces Neuralink "reveal" 6PM EST (3PM Pacific) Friday, August 28, 2020 (brain-machine interface update to connect humans and computers)

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Elon Musk’s brain-implant firm Neuralink to show off ‘working’ device Friday

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Elon Musk says his brain-implant firm Neuralink will show off a “working device” at a highly anticipated Friday event.

Musk announced the live demonstration on Twitter early Wednesday, apparently referring to the brain-machine interface — a device that would link human brains to computers — that Neuralink has been developing since it launched in 2017.

The tech tycoon also indicated that Neuralink will unveil the latest version of a high-tech robot it’s built to surgically implant electrodes that would let humans control computers with their minds. He said in February that the new machine would be “awesome” compared to an earlier version Neuralink presented last year.

Musk — the billionaire mogul behind Tesla and SpaceX — has offered scant details about the event since he set a date for it last month. He suggested in a July 30 tweet that Neuralink planned to “show neurons firing in real-time,” without elaborating on what that meant.

Neuralink’s ambitious project aims to pack thousands of tiny electrodes attached to flexible “threads” into an implantable device that could enable people with neurological disorders to use computers or other devices. The San Francisco-based startup says it has successfully implanted such devices in rats and reportedly plans to conduct human trials of its technology.

But the company has been plagued by a “chaotic internal culture” that rushed along projects and killed them just as fast, according to a STAT News investigation published Tuesday. Only two of Neuralink’s eight founding scientists are still on board, and researchers have privately discussed the need for the firm to focus on simpler projects to accelerate its progress, the outlet reported.

Neualink did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report. But the company told STAT that many of its findings were “either partially or completely false,” adding that its story would “look foolish” if it were published before Neuralink’s Friday event, which is set to begin at 6 p.m. Eastern time.

Edited by Gordo

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Thanks. Just to summarize:

https://news.sky.com/story/elon-musks-neuralink-puts-computer-chips-in-pigs-brains-12058930

 

.. The billionaire entrepreneur said that the company, Neuralink, had three pigs with two coin-sized implants each.

He described them as "healthy, happy and indistinguishable from a normal pig".

Neuralink is able to predict the animals' limb movements during treadmill runs at "high accuracy" using the implant data, Mr Musk said. ...

The San Francisco-based company has sought approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for the project, which has seen scientists develop a tiny implant with more than 3,000 electrodes, attached to flexible threads measuring about the tenth of the size of a hair, and capable of monitoring around 1,000 neurons. ...

The first trials will focus on patients with paralysis or paraplegia, according to the company's head surgeon Dr Matthew MacDougall.

He did not say when the trials would start.

 

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I know it doesn’t do much now, but they have really made a lot of progress and I think it’s a pretty cool company that might end up eventually with something big here. Even if the first win is small, it will be an important first step.  For what it’s worth my 9 year old daughter says she will be “the last” person to get one 😉

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I know it doesn’t do much now

Right. It never does.

might end up eventually with something big here.

Right. Always "might", never "does".

Even if the first win is small

Right. "Small" is always the operative word.

it will be an important first step

Right. First and last. Nothing ever comes of it.

Joking around a bit, but yeah, that's how all HYPE works. My money is on HYPE, and nothing but HYPE. There's only been a million billion companies that demonstrate some apparently cool technology as "proof of concept" and nothing whatsoever is heard from them subsequently (same for biotech companies etc.). Because it's always about that HYPE where you front load all the promises and take in all the hopeful capital as fast as you possibly can. Charitably you can say that's just how it works, and cynically you can say it's not meant to be anything else beyond that first capital inflow - go to IPO and cash out.

Look, best of luck to them. I'm as gung ho for a Buck Rogers future as the next guy, I'm just sayin' I've been around too long not to have seen the HYPE pattern, so... yeah.

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2 hours ago, Dean Pomerleau said:

So you were once optimistic about the tech too. I never provided a timeline like you did, these things always take longer than most think, and those crazy ideas about recording memories and dreams or replacing your cellphone probably won’t ever happen, but smaller wins like using this to stop chronic pain or perhaps even to induce pleasure seems pretty realistic, and you can clearly see the potential for two way silent communication although I don’t know how useful that would be. For example the pig can intentionally cause a spike every time it uses its snout, so already you could in the very least do Morse code type communication using your brain with the device they have today, which like I said, is not very impressive but hey, it’s something. 

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44 minutes ago, Gordo said:

. I never provided a timeline like you did

I actually never said 2020. That was the clickbait headline the writer or editor gave to the article. Our algorithm was able to tell which of two concrete nouns (e.g. airplane or dog) our subjects were thinking of based on their pattern of brain activity as recorded by an fMRI or MEG scanner. So better than morse code! 

But practical applications beyond helping the physically handicapped are still 20 years out. And helping the handicapped with brain implants has been happening since I was working in the area in the mid-2000s.

Direct brain communication with a bandwidth higher than the human eye is a pipe dream with no basis in reality. The brain just isn't set up like a USB port and evolution has optimized the visual cortex to achieve about as much bandwidth as possible given the limitations of our meat brains. 

So yes, like his promise of one million fully self-driving Tesla robotaxis on the road in 2020 (while Teslas on autopilot continue to plow into stopped vehicles like they've been doing for years... ), this is pure Elon hype. Admittedly fun to watch though. 

--Dean 

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Here is a recent article revisiting the topic of our 2009 ComputerWorld brain-computer interface story, in light of developments since then:

https://www.governing.com/next/Regaining-Control-of-Technology-One-Microchip-at-a-Time.html

I'm not nearly as sanguine about the technology as I was back before social media grew to become so dominant and destabilizing in our culture.

--Dean 

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It may seem like I'm a curmudgeonly cynic who is eager to always be a downer about wonderful progress. Far from it. I'm genuinely excited about the future and humanity's ability to invent - which is why I keep up with the literature and developments. I'm merely being realistic about the *odds* of any particular development becoming a success. It happens, but it's a bloody miracle every time it happens is all I'm saying.

This is true of every area of human activity. My area is film production. Talk to any experienced producer, director or film executive and you'll hear a unanimous chorus - it's a miracle that any film gets made. You see the number of films out there and think - bah, it's easy. What you're not seeing is the frequently years - decades even - of toil and countless attempts for every one that finally succeeds. This is where the "cynicism" - actually realism - comes in: when people tell you "I got this film financed"... if I had a penny for every time I've heard this and then subsequently "surprisingly" the financing falls through, I'd be the richest man on earth. There is about a 1000:1 ratio of "falling through to success" for films ostensibly already financed. Screenplays even worse. Studio submitted screenplays are about 100,000 per year. Studio made films are about 50 per year. Yet every writer is convinced their script will make it. 

It's the same situation with tech - you can't just listen to the screenwriter or tech inventor or product pusher. You are listening to their perspective. They are selling you their goods. OF COURSE it will sound good and like a done deal. But then it collides with reality and the numbers game. Odds are overwhelming that it won't work. How many ideas are there which are pushed and even financed and how many are ultimately brought to market and stay in the market successfully just as initially advertised? Vanishingly few. Hence you get HYPE. You must get people excited to invest. If they realized the odds, almost nobody would invest. So you need HYPE - essentially exaggeration layered generously over frank delusions - to get people over the hump and to open their wallets. The press laps it up, because they need something to write to sell their news and journalists are frequently undereducated in the relevant fields so they credulously report on whatever the hype is, or don't care and only sell the paper. 

But when you've been around long enough, and have witnessed the HYPE campaign frequently enough, you cotton on to the signs of that happening, and you temper your expectations. It doesn't mean it can't happen for real. It just means that when someone comes back from the corner store having just bought a lottery ticket you don't jump up and down convinced that you have a winner. You have a ticket with very remote odds - likely NOTHING - nothing but HYPE to get you to pony up for the next lottery ticket. YMMV.

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Here's a pretty sobering article from MIT Technology Review:Elon Musk’s Neuralink is neuroscience theaterElon Musk’s livestreamed brain implant event made promises that will be hard to keep.

It transpires that nothing much new was actually demonstrated, as the "noises" generated by the implant is something that's been done neuroscientists for decades already. Long on promises, nothing on delivery, with fuzzy timelines, with a lot of nonsensical and unlikely goals.

So why do this? Exactly for the reason I outlined in a classic HYPE sequence - quoting from the article:

"The primary objective of the streamed demo, instead, was to stir excitement, recruit engineers to the company (which already employs about 100 people), and build the kind of fan base that has cheered on Musk’s other ventures and has helped propel the gravity-defying stock price of electric-car maker Tesla.

And there you have it. Classic HYPE. 

It's hard to find out what was actually accomplished:"For those awaiting the “matrix in the matrix,” as Musk had hinted on Twitter, the cute-animal interlude was not exactly what they hoped for. To neuroscientists, it was nothing new; in their labs the buzz and crackle of electrical impulses recorded from animal brains (and some human ones) has been heard for decades."

Note, another classic HYPE pattern is to make promises which are *never* fulfilled at key timeline points (here the "matrix in the matrix" Musk promised on Twitter), and when the deadline arrives, there is immediate goal post shifting into the future with even more extravagant promises (which of course will go unfullfilled again), and so on for as long as the credulous media and fans are willing to buy. Nothing ever comes of it, and eventually it's all forgotten... until the NEXT hype! Rinse and repeat!

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I watched the livestream event -- thanks Gordo for letting us know about it. Right at the beginning, Musk indicated that the primary purpose of the event was to help in recruiting engineers. I think it was likely effective for that purpose.

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Tom will appreciate this article, which pretty much sums up Neurolink and Musk's general modus operandi. It is titled "I was excited for Neuralink. Then I watched Elon Musk’s stupid demo". Here is an excerpt:

Musk makes promises first, then expects someone he pays to come up with the science to make it work.

Neuralink is purported to eventually be capable of curing spinal injuries, autistic spectrum disorder, neurological disorders, anxiety, depression, pain, unhappiness, and letting you control any gadget with your mind. Most of this is pie-in-the-sky nonsense that we could be centuries away from pulling off and some of it is just flat out nonsense that medical professionals scoff at as absurd (you can’t, for example, cure autistic spectrum disorder because it isn’t a disease).

But that didn’t stop me from getting hyped up to the point of forgetting that Musk is a con-artist at worst and just some dude with a bunch of money and charisma at best.

Read the article for a full assessment of how little (new) the latest demo actually demonstrated. 

--Dean 

 

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Yep, that's a pretty funny article and very accurate - thanks, Dean!
 

A couple of quotes:

"Musk got me again. I should have known better. After all, I once believed Tesla would reach level five autonomy (full driverless) by 2020 because Musk swore it would happen. Actually he said there’d be a million fully autonomous vehicles on the road by the end of the year (most experts still think we’re decades away from the first one). And I bought it when he said The Boring Company would revolutionize transportation. Y’all, it’s just a regular tunnel."

"At the end of the day Neuralink is another example of Musk’s hype machine getting everyone excited for science and technology, only to remind us that optimism and money aren’t the only things keeping humans from living in a science fiction utopia."

I guess the difference for me, is that I have stopped being taken in by the hype sometime in the 80's, after I witnessed the bursting of the biotech bubble. I learned some hard lessons, and crucially I learned to recognize the signature of empty HYPE. Now, when I see the signs of HYPE, I duly note the attempt and ignore it completely - saves a lot of time and unnecessary energy expenditure. Of course, it doesn't mean you can't profit from the HYPE even if you know that it's the typical flim-flam - see David Sinclair's Sirtris Pharmaceuticals that brought in a cool $720 million before it was quietly shut down. Still, the company went public in 2007 and was bought in 2008, so not long after, which is pretty good - from wikipedia:

"Sirtris went public in 2007 and was subsequently purchased and made a subsidiary of GlaxoSmithKline in 2008 for $720 million.[5] GSK paid $22.50/share, when Sirtris's stock was trading at $12/share, down 45% from its highest price of the previous year.[6]"

The amazing thing is that many of us already were raising serious questions about resveratrol and the mice experiments - and the breathless hype of resveratrol had all the classic signs of HYPE empty completely deliberately planned PR campaign. You'd think the pharma execs would be smarter - but no. From what I understand GSK execs were against buying Sirtris, but were over ruled by one powerful board member. After the disaster, of course, in typical fashion no one was held accountable. Meanwhile:

"Studies published in 2009 and early 2010 by scientists from Amgen and Pfizer cast doubt on whether SIRT1 was directly activated by resveratrol and showed that the apparent activity was actually due to a fluorescent reagent used in the experiments.[7][8][9"

But even after the whole thing sank, there was still money to be made on the back end of the breathless PR in the supplement space, since it doesn't require any proof or FDA approval:

 

"In August 2010, a nonprofit called the Healthy Lifespan Institute, which had been formed the year before by Westphal and Michelle Dipp, who joined GSK from Sirtris, began selling SRT501 as a dietary supplement online;[4] when this become public GSK required Westphal and Dipp, who were still GSK employees, to resign from the nonprofit.[13][14]"

Meanwhile the original research that sparked the whole thing was quietly put to rest:

 

"GSK/Sirtris terminated development of SRT501 in late 2010.[15][16] GSK said it was terminating SRT501 due to side effects of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea it caused, and because the compound's activity wasn't specific to SIRT1, at some doses it actually inhibited SIRT1, and the compound itself wasn't patentable.[15][16] The company said at that time that it was focused on two compounds called SRT2104 and SRT2379 that were not resveratrol analogs, had better drug-like qualities, and were more selective SIRT1 activators.[15][16]"

And there you have it. The HYPE game never dies and P.T. Barnum's dictum lives on "there's a new one born every minute". 

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Along these lines I think its kind of funny that Tesla announced today they would be selling $5 billion worth of stock at the market.  Why bother selling cars when you can sell stock?  Valuation level is astonishing.  Why do investors give him so much credibility then? 

I think its because he is actually out there doing cool things that no one else is doing (or at least not doing very well).  Replace NASA and restart our own domestic rocket launches?  Sure why not.  Build crazy machines that can dig underground tunnels?  Yes please.  Electric cars - probably going to be big one day but the flying car will be so much better (and you know he is working on it).  Put humans on mars?  Yes please, lets go.  Wire up some brains to wirelessly do something interesting?  Why not?  We need rich people like Elon pushing the boundaries.  The world would be dull otherwise.  I think you guys know brain interfaces will be important some day.  Well how's it going to ever get there unless people are working on it and making small incremental advances for many decades?

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2 hours ago, Gordo said:

I think its because he is actually out there doing cool things that no one else is doing (or at least not doing very well).

I have to agree with this.  He is the Jobs of today.  Part salesman, part visionary, part arsehole.

The Tesla valuations are crazy, but so are Apple's, and Google's, and even Amazon's (which should be broken up).  It's not a question of if, but how soon.

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