Elon Musk’s “NeuraLink” company develops hardware and software to link human central nervous systems to computers. The company’s product appears to be in a quite early stage but judging from the development speed Musk drives in his other endeavors we may indeed be just a decade off having a usable electronic link from our thoughts to computers.
So for what are we going to use that? Writing Emails? The ultimate immersive porn? I have my doubts. The first generations of the product will probably be targeted at people with severe disabilities. This seems very reasonable and promising. But after that?
The problem for Neuralink is that the threshold to getting a link implanted is quite high. You need a quite massive incentive in order to have your skull cut open. And porn or games ain’t gonna cut it due to initial fidelity problems. That’s just an intuition on my side – having a neuroscience background, though. So what could be the killer application of NeuraLink?
The ultimate incentive is self preservation. And I think NeuraLink could potentially help significantly with that.
I’m currently inflicted with a minor nuisance. A few joints hurt a bit for two months now, a few headaches, a minor inflammation on the nose, also every other week a sore throat for half a year. Something is off but I don’t know what it is. I’ve seen a doctor, but she doesn’t know either. They took a bit of blood and the lab didn’t find anything suspicious. I’ll just have to wait it out and hope it’s nothing serious.
I have a wealth of sensory information on my malady. But I don’t know it, so I can’t tell what it is. I know a cold coming, I know exactly how that feels, and I know some intestinal diseases from experience and I know sore muscles, tendons and stuff. But happily that’s mostly where it ends. I lack experience with introceptive sensory information for the identification of a million potential diseases. Somebody out there probably would – in my skin – know what it is. I don’t.
I have supreme life chemical, tactile, temperature, pain and other data on what’s befalling me. But the communication link with my doctor is pretty coarse (language, pah 🙂 ) and she may indeed lack the specific required experience for this particular case, too.
In comes NeuraLink. If I were neuralinked, my introceptive sensory data could be compared to a database of likewise data and I could likely have a diagnosis in seconds.
There are significant technological hurdles involved in this. My sensory data is just bits and bytes. But my data is likely significantly differently encoded than yours.
The first problem is identifying what data to use – using everything is out of the questions for decades to come and this application likely requires very specific data that’s mostly useless for other use cases NeruaLink envisions. Then the signal must be separated from the noise and finally data must be encoded in a common format in order to be comparable between users.
But let’s assume all these problems would be solved. Then here’s why you would really want a NeuraLink, why you would seriously consider having your skull cut open.
Having a correct diagnosis for all common maladies fast sounds quite nice. But that’s just a very small part of it. Your health cost could drop dramatically. Instead of getting five wrong diagnoses and treatments for one correct one, you’d mostly get instant correct diagnosis and treatments.
You would likely still see a doctor, but that doctor is already almost certain what it is you have and just does a few definitive tests to be sure. Your treatment could be optimized withe less negative effects and quicker cure due to continuous optimization by life feedback of how the treatment works inside you.
When you feel a minor pain you could be pretty confident on whether there is just something sore and you can go on or something is bad, you are making it worse and should see a doctor right now. When doing sports, you mostly know when to stop and when to continue.
Most importantly, when continually monitoring your data, you could be alerted to problems long before you even become aware of them. Some things may feel a bit funny, but nothing serious … just early stage cancer. Many medical problems could be stopped or cured in early stages instead when a lot of harm is already done.
That link would almost certainly not be the (start of the) cure for all medical problems, but there is significant potential of it cutting down your health cost, improving your life quality and elongating your life expectancy a bit. If that does not persuade you to get the link, nothing will.