back to article Idea of downloading memories far-fetched say experts after Musk claim resurfaces in latest Neuralink development

Publicity-shy self-proclaimed technoking Elon Musk reluctantly hit the headlines last week as his brain wiring startup Neuralink launched recruitment for clinical trials. An online ad (screenshots here and here) was looking for someone to "lead and help build the team responsible for enabling Neuralink's clinical research …

  1. Necrohamster Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    If the quality of the software in his cars is anything to go by... don't think I'd be keen on putting one of his devices in my brain

    1. devin3782

      Not to mention the telemetry those cars phone home with, I certainly wouldn't want that in my brain either.

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Not to mention the telemetry those cars phone home with, I certainly wouldn't want that in my brain either.

        Why not? Seems like a nice way to backup your memories.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "... don't think I'd be keen on putting one of his devices in my brain"

      Musk'gatory - "502: Bad gateway to heaven."

      Meet Joe Musk: "Should you choose to test my resolve on this matter, you'll be looking at an outcome that will have a finality that's beyond your comprehension, and you will not be counting the days, the months or the years, but millenniums, in a place with no doors."

    3. ShadowSystems

      To NecroHamster...

      I upvoted your post for the content, but I wish I could give it another for your choice of username. It made me think of a furry little monster, nose down against the page of a book, eagerly memorizing the Necronomicron to further it's evil plans.

      *Hands you a pint-sized hamster water bottle filled with booze*

      Drink up! May I be among the first to volunteer to become part of your Evil Minions. =-D

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Better SpaceX software in your head than Boeings...

    5. Anonymous Coward

      "Absolute balls."

      "This is god-level cockwaffle, typical of the manballs beloved of these ignorant dorks."

      I couldn't have said it better myself.

      Have a pint, Adam Rutherford.

      1. Dave 126

        Re: "Absolute balls."

        God-level? Called me old-fashioned but I like my gods to be able to break the laws of physics (and if I'm feeling a bit Ancient Greek, to break the laws of biology and of all decent taste, but that's another matter). A *nearly* impossible squidgy wiring job doesn't cut the mustard as a divine feat. Even Maxwell's Demon can break entropy, and he's only a sodding demon.

  2. Steve Button Silver badge

    Not gonna happen any time soon.

    I put this in the same category as drone deliveries, except a billion times more complex.

    1. b0llchit Silver badge

      Re: Not gonna happen any time soon.

      Agreed, not gonna happen.

      But it is such a fine and deep money pit. It is a great bubble of wishful thinking. You can burn and destroy billions and billions before anybody will pull the plug. Think of all the possibilities to redistribute wealth to the deserving rich.

      1. Dave 126

        Re: Not gonna happen any time soon.

        Any research done today in pursuit of 'memory uploading' (50 year goal) could have applications near-term in treating brain and spinal injuries, epilepsy, Parkinsons, and other conditions. The billions you mention won't be wasted. Specifically in the case of Neuralink much of their current research is involved with existing medical techniques that involve brains and electrodes.

        Musk hasn't got to Mars, (his stated aim), and likely won't this decade since many significant obstacles have not been solved or addressed. However, that doesn't mean that SpaceX isn't commercially viable.

        1. b0llchit Silver badge

          Re: Not gonna happen any time soon.

          The chances of landing on Mars are actually very significantly better than reading and storing the human mind and its memory.

          Sure, there is research that can be applied other places. It may even advance different areas. But, shouldn't we be honest and simply disclose that "reading minds" is SciFi babble?

          It may be a very good cause to work on epilepsy, spinal injuries and whatnot. Those are very meaningful areas, where we may alleviate suffering(primarily for first world citizens). It may also improve understanding and much more. But all of this is a very long way from reading minds.

          Honesty is the first thing to go when you hype the impossible or improbable. Then the sharks descent on the area and blood will flow. Those who get hurt are rarely the sharks.

          1. Dave 126

            Re: Not gonna happen any time soon.

            >But, shouldn't we be honest and simply disclose that "reading minds" is SciFi babble?

            Why does something everybody knows need to be disclosed? You know reading minds is impossible, I know it, Musk knows it, his investors know it, prospective Neuralink employees know it. You imply there is dishonesty afoot but I can't see that anyone has been deceived. I can't even see an intent to deceive, since Musk knows everyone knows it's babble.

            Reading minds is clearly babble. That it is a familiar SciFi concept should be disclosure enough that it is babble. But all business plans are works of speculation, all corporate mission statements are babble too.

            I just don't get the problem with aiming at some seemingly almost impossible (but not yet actually falsifiable) direction if there's a good chance of making valuable discoveries along the way. We don't know what we don't know, so sometimes an arbitary direction must be chosen.

            Some SciFi babble of the past has become a science or a technology. If one knew in advance which way it goes, one wouldn't have do loads of costly research. If it doesn't actually break the laws of physics then it is true to say it might be possible. Even if the small print then says: It is possible but to do so requires you to capture energy equivalent to 98% of your star's annual radiated output, or some such. Guessing what the small print says is an established part of the game!

            Musk could state in perfectly good faith a Neuralink goal for five years time that might seem plausible to all today, but actually turn out to be impossible for an unexpected reason. In this scenario, would he have been more or less honest than had he just talked about far future mind reading?

            And forgetting honesty, let's think of kindness. He was recruiting staff. Best not to talk too much about possible near-term treatments so as not to unfairly raise the hopes of people suffering from conditions that might be addressed with this medical approach. Which the media might choose to smear him with. Talk about the far future. Let the media laugh.

            1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

              Re: Not gonna happen any time soon.

              "Sure, it's pretentious irrational bullshit, but it's pretentious irrational bullshit in a good cause."

              No thanks. That's an excuse which has been used to cover a multitude of sins. I'm not going to give Musk a pass on this.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Not gonna happen any time soon.

            Difference is, between here and Mars is just lots of near vacuum. Between here and a Banksiain Neural Lace are opportunities to learn medically useful technologies.

        2. Chris G

          Re: Not gonna happen any time soon.

          I think what most of the detractors of Muak are missing, is "In the future", he didn't say 'the near future' or even soon, who knows what may or may.not be possible in 'The future'?

          Even Musk has the right to dream and imagine and you never know, maybe once in a while he might come up with something useable.

          At least he seems to make a better effort at looking forward than Bezos and one or two of the other billionaires.

          When did he become the richest man? A few months back he was trailing JB by tens of billions.

          1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

            Re: When did Musk become the richest man?

            All down to Cryptocurrencies. He got in early. Personally, I hope that he and Bezos both lose the lot but that ain't gonna happen.

            1. Blank Reg

              Re: When did Musk become the richest man?

              The sooner cryptocurrencies reach their true value of zero the better.

          2. Mage Silver badge

            Re: When did he become the richest man?

            Only in theory sense. It's based on share value and Tesla shares are x100 to x500 overvalued. It's speculation fuelled by carbon trading.

            1. Helcat

              Re: When did he become the richest man?

              That is the one thing people forget about wealth: It's based on estimated net worth: The value of what is owned minus what is owed, and the problem there is value fluctuates. So Tesla has an estimated value, but until it's sold (liquidating assets and all that), the value isn't actually known, so the wealth of the owner isn't known.

              So Musk may be estimated as the richest person, but that can easily change: He could be a mere Millionaire tomorrow.

              And if he does liquidate assets... that's when the bun fight starts over how much tax he owes and two whom...

              1. AndrueC Silver badge

                Re: When did he become the richest man?

                And I assume there are legal restrictions on his ability to liquidate those assets. If he suddenly sold all his shares there'd be a huge knock-on effect on that could cost thousands of jobs.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: When did he become the richest man?

                  he did sell a chunk of them. His tax bill for that is estimated at around $11B. i.e. the most tax a single individual has ever paid in US history.


          3. Dave 126

            Re: Not gonna happen any time soon.

            Indeed. We don't know what the future in twenty or fifty years will look like. We know that nobody knows, and so we know that Musk doesn't know. He knows that we know that he doesn't know. He's not trying to fool us because we're all straight and on the same page about us not knowing. He's actually advertising that he doesn't know by talking about such a magic concept.

            We also know that many areas of research have made unexpected discoveries or found unexpected applications. We know that Musk knows that we know that etc etc etc We would expect any diligent company to consider pivotting at any time towards greater shareholder return, or in response to a changed commercial or technological environment. Oh, you make computers but you see an opportunity to make millions as a music distributer? Shareholder says yes!

            So, if all company missions statements are understood by all involved to be works of fiction, why the fuss over a clearly vague one? Especially as the here-and-now business plan for Neuralink seems sane enough.

            Actually, the mindset of 'we hope to make a magic box in twenty years time by any means available (and in mean time seek applications for what we actually discover)' might be less risky to a company than 'we make this product by this process'.

            1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

              Re: Not gonna happen any time soon.

              and so we know that Musk doesn't know.

              I see at least two ways that Musk could know: Cassandra's Curse and Time Travel. I admit both are considered impossible, but experts have been wrong before.

          4. bombastic bob Silver badge

            Re: Not gonna happen any time soon.

            When did he become the richest man?

            Maybe when he moved his car company from Cali-Fornicate-You to Texas?

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not gonna happen any time soon.

          Is it really commercially viable, though?

          As it's not public, there's very little information available about their profits, and what there is suggests they're very small at best.

        4. ThatOne Silver badge

          Re: Not gonna happen any time soon.

          > could have applications near-term in treating brain and spinal injuries, epilepsy, Parkinsons, and other conditions.

          Sure, but is there (enough) money in that? No, of course not, not anywhere near. The real, the only money from this technology is in entertainment and advertising.

          Of course they will say it's all about the poor and the weak, but the only commercially valid goal, the only reason to pump millions of dollars into this, is a neural implant that will let you watch lolcats mixed with ads anywhere you go. (With some monetizable "telemetry" of course, because nothing works without telemetry nowadays, does it.)

        5. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not gonna happen any time soon.

          @Dave 126

          Space X is probably commercially viable.

          Which is more than can be said about his "let's bung a load of litter into space" satellite thing.

          1. Dave 126

            Re: Not gonna happen any time soon.

            Starlink isn't making money yet and won't for a while - only a fraction of the satellites have been deployed. It's hard to predict whether it will be a commercial winner because, historically, increasing availability and decreasing the cost of a service can drastically affect the demand for it in unintuitive ways. Musk told his engine-building employees before Christmas that profitability depends upon using the larger (and yet to reach orbit) launch vehicle Starship.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't see a problem in his statement.

    "I think in the future you will be able to save and replay memories..." Doesn't say Neuralink can do it, or even that they ever will.

    The "I think" part tells us it's just Musk's musings.

    "in the future" acknowledges we aren't there yet.

    The rest is just the description of the problem.

    Calculating the data required to hold the entire brain state seems like saying there's X number of photons in this scene so we can't possibly record a video of it. At present we just don't know how much data is required to hold a memory, or how to capture and replay it.

    I can't imagine we'll have this technology soon, and maybe never, but wouldn't rule it out.

    1. Halfmad

      Re: I don't see a problem in his statement.

      I think he's been watching too much Harry Potter, they essentially do this in Dumbledores study.

      Put bluntly, Musk is an innovator but what he says rarely matches what is done by his companies and in many cases can be proven false by current science or his live displays - his truck glass for instance, his hyperloop which is just currently a 1KM tunnel with human driven cars in LA.

      We need people like him but I'm sure investors wish he'd pipe down occasionally with the nonsense.

      1. Dave 126

        Re: I don't see a problem in his statement.

        And yet you know that the glass isn't perfect, you know when a rocket goes bang, you know the current state of [The Boring Company, (Hyperloop is something else)] tunnel projects. That you know these things, that investors know these things (or should do, because its their job)... seems fair.

        I mean, Musk hypes up the what could be, but he seems fairly straight with the what is. Some investors probably like this approach, since when it comes to future predictions they do their own homework instead of taking anyone's word for it (no matter how sober or conservative their predictions seem).

        I'm open to counterfactuals to my generalisation.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I don't see a problem in his statement.

          A fair amount of investors are driven by FOMO, and way too many are merely speculating on hype while overestimating their own ability to cash out right before the crash happens. Just because a lot are pouring money in some specific venture doesn't mean it's grounded in reality.

        2. Halfmad

          Re: I don't see a problem in his statement.

          He spouts about possibilities with little science backing it up. Hyperloop, fake electric truck etc etc.

          Sure he occasionally gets it right and he's certainly someone worth following as I do think he's absolutely necessary to have - people pushing for more, better, faster and change but he's not worthy of the idolisation he gets, he's wrong far more than he's right.

          Thing is when he is right he makes people wealthy so you can see why they speculate on his BS.

      2. oldman62

        Re: I don't see a problem in his statement.

        Actually I think he;s been reading book 4 of the 2001 Space Odyssey series , definite talk about storing information in the petabyte range, can't remember if it was human memories or Hal

      3. Necrohamster Silver badge

        Re: I don't see a problem in his statement.

        "We need people like him but I'm sure investors wish he'd pipe down occasionally with the nonsense."

        There's a fine line between being a visionary and being a bullshitter.

    2. Down not across

      Re: I don't see a problem in his statement.

      So we're pretty far from a SQUID yet. And it has become obvious not a lot of memories would fit on a MiniDisc...

      1. Chris G

        Re: I don't see a problem in his statement.

        " would fit on a MiniDisc..."

        There are a few intellects that probably would.

      2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: I don't see a problem in his statement.

        SQUIDs (Superconducting Quantum Interference Device) are already a thing, and already used for mind reading. Well, in MEG (Magnetoencephalography) scanners. Which are cool, and could tell that you're thinking. Or which bits of your brain are getting excited.

        Which is a very long way from being able to read/write directly to or from brains. But it's standard SF stuff, eg neural implants, meshes etc. It would be a lot simpler if we were binary, but we're not, we're ambulatory bags of electrochemical soup. I kinda discovered this at Uni trying to use SQUIDs to record nerve activity to drive prosthetics. Not easy, especially when the electrochemical activity is weak, and SQUIDs are extremely sensitive.

        So that's going to be a huge challenge in itself managing SNR. Or just preventing interference crashing the wetware, triggering seizures, inflammation or infection risks etc etc. Or maybe Tesla's board will get fed up with having a part-time CEO.

        1. Down not across

          Re: I don't see a problem in his statement.

          It would be a lot simpler if we were binary, but we're not, we're ambulatory bags of electrochemical soup.

          Far my my field of expertise, but that statement summarises perfectly what my understanding is.

          I watched a documentary on Hugh Herr from MIT recently and modern prosthetics are (or can be if you can afford them) quite impressive.

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge

      Re: I don't see a problem in his statement.

      I have seen some evidence to suggest that actual memories are not contained within the brain itself, but the brain contains "pointers" to those memories [such that damaging the brain causes you to lose the pointers, and therefore, cannot access the memories]. Memories may, in fact, be hyperdimensional and more metaphysical than physical. If this is the case, downloading them may be impossible with ANY technology that cannot access things outside of a 3D+time perception of the universe.

      Still, I like the idea of the machine/human interface. "Ghost in the Shell"

      And being an 'optimistic futurist' might lead to OTHER cool things.

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: I don't see a problem in his statement.

        I dunno, given some of the players involved, I sense dystopia rather than utopia. Imagine if YT was really your window to the world. Don't think about pink elephants else your previews and recommendations will be nothing but pink elephants. And you better hope your NSFW filter subscription is live. And nobody has spoofed your ID and taken out a full self-driving option out on you.

        But such is the great showman. Big on hype, small on delivery. All sorts of fun potential, or just answer life's big questions? Like why pink elephants, and why cartoon versions? Should we blame Disney, or praise our brains for fetching a simple compressible and waits to see if it needs to create a synaptic rendering farm. Brains seem to have a far better pre-fetch ability than Windows.

        But it's fun stuff to think about. Plus simple thought experiments involving elephants generate a lot of research papers, including one about image backgrounds and the brain's stock libraries. All of which will be vital if we're going to get neural spam filters.

  4. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

    "Tim Verstynen, associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at Carnegie Mellon University, took to Twitter to post a "back of the envelope calculation" to explain why exactly Musk's claims were so far-fetched."

    Confucius he say; 'Man who say task is impossible, should not get in way of man doing it.' Good on Elon for refusing to settle for the status quo, and daring to try and make the future happen.

    1. Necrohamster Silver badge

      Why is it that Musk’s enterprises seem to have one of two aims? Tax dodge or government handout

      I wonder which one this is?

      1. Snowy Silver badge

        Why not both with a side dish of living forever on his own planet once he does up Mars.

      2. DS999 Silver badge

        This will definitely be "government handout"

        Between government paid medical procedures and the uses the defense industry would put this to, it is pretty clear what side this falls on if it can ever be made to work reliably.

        I expect after the first even partially successful trial, he will be publicly advocating for Medicare paying for these procedures, claiming "why should we make the people who could benefit from this wait through years of studies and monitoring, if they are willing to make the choice to go ahead now?"

  5. DrBobK

    I'm a cognitive neuropsychologist, but with a bit of a computational background (spent a summer at the Santa Fe Institute, refereed things about physics of computation, that sort of thing). Dr. Verstynen is right to draw an analogy with chaotic dynamics, but the brain situation is even worse. Typically, when one studies chaos the system is isolated - in brains new perturbations from the outside world keep bumping into it and the system never has the chance to settle into stable attractor dynamics - it is always on the way there - it never arrives (until we die). There are probably transient, sort of predictable, quasi-stable states induced by signals from outside world, but I don't think we have much of an idea at all about how these are formed and how they affect the rest of the brain. All a bit hand-wavy, but, at this stage that's probably all you're going to get. Elon is talking out of his hat.

    Yrs truly, A Professor.

    1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      Would you go on record and say this will never happen?

      1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

        Going by the downvote I'd say no, you won't go on record. In which case, you and Elon are saying essentially the same thing; we're not anywhere near yet, it's phenomenally difficult and unlikely to appear any time soon, but let's take the first steps and see what happens.

        1. Dave 126

          They are saying the same thing in essence. Its just the hard of thinking are having trouble parsing it. The wording of the article didn't help, either. ( And no, Musk wasn't world's richest man st time of first public demo, nor would it relevant if he had been. )

          If Musk really thought he knew everything about brains, he wouldn't have started a compay that researches brains.

          Brains are ridiculously complex as are their relationship to our bodies, environments and societies and there is so much we don't know, and so much to learn.

          You would have thought starting a brain research company would be enough of a clue that Musk is aware of this deficit of knowledge.

  6. Michael Hoffmann Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    That quote!

    "Absolute balls. This is god-level cockwaffle, typical of the manballs beloved of these ignorant dorks."

    I don't have Twitter, but I may have to sign up only to follow this gentleman! Bravo! Bravo, I say! Brought a tear of joy to my eye, it did.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: That quote!

      He should get off the fence, and tell us what he really thinks...

  7. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    When this works...

    Will he also be able to analyse all sorts of diseases from a few drops of blood?

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: When this works...

      Ouch :)

  8. Howard Sway Silver badge

    Fitted into the skull, the implant ... inserted into areas of the brain

    For all the people who are going to cheer this sort of stuff on, because, like, Elon's a megarichtechgenius, I would first recommend reading some of J.G. Ballard's short story books. They are full of horrendous ideas like this, with the end result often being that the human guinea pigs they're tried on are left permanently screaming in terror at the irreversible hell they've ended up in.

    Also, they're much less time consuming than spending an hour watching Black Mirror tediously labour its "bad tech use" point.

    1. Dave 126

      Re: Fitted into the skull, the implant ... inserted into areas of the brain

      Never ending living hell? You don't need to reach to Ballard when the concept is explored by Iain M Banks in the very same novel in which he describes a 'Neural Lace' device. Banks has the Neural Lace used for good in the book, but also descrives another culture that enforces eternal torture upon its physically deceased citizens. (I'm not rating Banks over Ballard per se, its just Musk is a known Banks fan. I dare say he's familiar with Ballards dystopias, and Gibson's Jackpot too.)

      I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison is oft cited when an example of the eternal torture of a human consciousness in a computer controlled substrate trope is called for.

      Anyway, back to now.

      The future may contain unimaginable horrors and joys. The present contains lots of people whose real living hells (cluster headaches, epilepsy, seizures) have been made more bearable by medical procedures on the brain, and many people who would benfit from more advances in these areas of medicine. That's real benefit.

      Just as real as the botched lobotomies, pulled teeth and other horrors performed in the past were real.

      Just Read The Intructions

      1. Dave 126

        Re: Fitted into the skull, the implant ... inserted into areas of the brain

        Another SF influence might be The Turing Option, co-authored by the academic Marvin Minsky and the writer of irreverent Sci Fi Harry Harrison. Its on the form of a thriller, and a character's traumatic brain injury is partially repaired by an AI robot whose manipulators are branches of rods that keep dividing down to a microscopic scale.

        (It's not a great SF novel. I'd recommend The Stainless Steel Rat or Bill the Galactic Hero by Harrison though, just great cheerful swashbuckling in spaaaace!)

    2. Andy the ex-Brit

      Re: Fitted into the skull, the implant ... inserted into areas of the brain

      I'm going to recommend Steven Gould's "Helm." Maybe borderline juvie (I read it decades ago) but the back story involves perfection of machines for memory transference and programming, which kicks off an apocalyptic war as Shiites start using it to "convert" Sunnis and vice versa, Russians and Chinese to create perfect communist citizens, etc.

  9. steelpillow Silver badge

    Let's start with the obvious

    Modern research suggests strongly that he brain stores memories by making new synapse connections. These connections fade over time and eventually break. Whenever we recall something (perhaps only by dreaming about it), the strength of those connections is reinforced. So memory is a dynamic thing, wholly bound into the dynamic evolution of the brain.

    To artificially recall a memory you would have to identify and artificially stimulate every synapse involved in that memory. This demands two particular technologies:

    1. Wiring up every synapse in the brain, and updating that wiring dynamically in real-time.

    2. Identifying each individual memorable event and the synapses associated with it, and storing that association.

    So you need a database index as comparably vast as the raw brain configuration itself, as much hardware wiring stuffed into in the brain as there is wetware wiring, and a database technology sufficiently powerful to operate the whole shebang in real-time.

    That data system will effectively be a brain in its own right. It is more likely to sever the connection and sign on to Facebook than it is to waste its life backing up Musk's distorted reality.

    Idiocy comes in many forms. Not stopping to reality-check one's ideas is one of them. It has been said that genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains. Poor Elon risks becoming a classic example of what happens when you do not stop to do so.

    1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

      Re: Let's start with the obvious

      What you are describing is "just" an interrogable synthetic human memory bank. Yet your obviously sceptical attitude to that system doesn't address the simple fact that hundreds of billions of dollars of private and government equity is being invested into the belief that fully artificially intelligent systems are either already or going to be a thing which, by definition, requires a synthetic memory system of some type as a significant component ...

      The article quotes unfathomable numbers of 10^15 neurons ... I'm sorry but in the 1970s with my "huge" minicomputer systems with 10^3B RAM I would have laughed is anyone had suggested the ability to hold a phone in my hand with 10^11 bytes of ram on it ... You have to look at the possibility of what *may* be possible. 10^12B is not unusual now, so 10^15B of storage in that context is not a massive leap. But that's simply a dumb memory bank, how it is constructed to work as a useful system is the difficult bit ... Loading and uploading human memory is science fiction *today* and it is guaranteed that will remain the case unless someone works on it ...

      Perhaps the inability to do something is a good reason to try to do it? And perhaps Musk is maverick enough to do it?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Let's start with the obvious

        You're comparing powers of 10 as if they're merely some sort of linear increase.

        10^12 vs 10^15 doesn't mean 3 times are much, it's 1000 times more. Also, that amount of data is clearly explained in the article, it's the minimum amount of data for a mere moment in time: it's not simple static storage, like the ones you allude to, but dynamic and changing all the time.

        As in, we're closer today to imagining a way to get stable fusion power than to design a single machine able to handle this amount of data. Let alone billions of them if the project is not to create a new species reserved to rich men.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Let's start with the obvious

          You're comparing powers of 10 as if they're merely some sort of linear increase.

          It reminds me of a Stross fanboi who told me once that one of The Great Man's obsessions, a space elevator, would be easily possible because it only needed a five order if magnitude increase in the strength of carbon nanotubes, and five is a small number.

          The last six thousand years of human metallurgical endeavour have increased the strength of steel by about 0.3 orders of magnitude. Sorry, sci-fi fans, but some things really are impossible.

      2. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: Let's start with the obvious

        > doesn't address the simple fact that hundreds of billions of dollars of private and government equity is being invested

        Come on, you aren't by any chance suggesting investors are rational and all-knowing? Speculative bubbles have existed since the dawn of financial speculation (tulips...) and we've seen several in the last 20-30 years.

        So, "the simple fact that hundreds of billions of dollars of private and government equity is being invested" doesn't need any addressing, it's a known, totally random and meaningless result of human behavior in any speculative market. Small investors will lose their money, big ones will get richer, and life goes on.

        (Didn't downvote you though.)

      3. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Let's start with the obvious

        "I'm sorry but in the 1970s with my "huge" minicomputer systems with 10^3B RAM I would have laughed is anyone had suggested the ability to hold a phone in my hand with 10^11 bytes of ram on it ..."

        Both of those are misstating the reality a bit, though. 10^11 bytes of RAM in a phone, no. That's 93 GiB. They don't have that much RAM until you get to desktops. I admit, it can be purchased by a single person, but you're overstating how cheap it is. Similarly, 1k of RAM in the 1970s wasn't a ton. The Apple I had 4k already, and that could be afforded by individuals. I'll grant there has been a significant increase, and there's likely to be more of them (though not coming as quickly).

        However, even if we assume the ready availability of petabyte hard drives, two issues make that not enough, in addition to the lack of connection technology you already acknowledged. The first is that you need to read and write that data really fast We may have massive storage, but we can't read in a petabyte in a second. If we can't compress the data well, we're going to have to read a lot more faster than we can. A thousandfold increase in storage efficiency is already hard. A millionfold increase in transfer speeds is going to take quite a bit longer. Second, you don't need one of those drives, you need a large set of them. Even if most of the synaptic data can be compressed or discarded, they change a lot. There's also no frame rate for the brain. And you'll need sufficient computing to compress the data in real time or enough extra storage to cache uncompressed data until the memory recording is done.

        Even without the biological interface, it's a herculean task. Musk can fantasize all he wants, but he should be careful to make sure people know he can't actually do this any time soon. I also must admit that people who fantasize too much lose my respect unless they're doing it to write fiction.

        1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

          Re: Let's start with the obvious

          "we can't read in a petabyte in a second"

          As a biological entity, do we do that?

          Don't get fixated by the classic 'computer' view of data input and "instant" memory permanence. We know it takes up to two days to store a human memory permanently. It also appears that most of the raw data flowing from stimuli is simply disposed of, but selected patterns of stimuli may be stored so "petabytes" may be reduced by tens or hundreds of orders of magnitude at a stroke ... The problem, as I said, is not how much data is stored or how quickly data is stored but establishing how a particular memory is stored, accessed and interpreted.

          The problematic elephant in the room that could cause a major hiccough in downloading brain data is do person A and person B remember "42" in exactly the same way or place?

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: Let's start with the obvious

            As we don't read in binary data, no we don't. But if we're encoding the brain's state to binary data on storage mediums, then the storage medium is going to have to. If we accept the neuroscientist's numbers, the data read from the brain will consist of 10^15 bits at least for each moment, which can probably be compressed later. Even if it can, the system that compresses it will need to load that data for compression, which requires memory that can load a petabyte per instant and store it until it's been compressed. We don't have that yet and it requires more advancement than simply getting storage efficiency up.

    2. Dave 126

      Re: Let's start with the obvious

      >Idiocy comes in many forms. Not stopping to reality-check one's ideas is one of them. It has been said that genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains.

      Not stopping to read the business plan of the outfit you are criticising falls into the same category. Just saying. Near term plans for research, products, market, funding more research etc are all there. Whether they make commercial sense is a different question, but the near terms products are based upon devices in use today - so we'll go with 'plausible' unless given good reason not to. The 'reality check' as you put it, comes with learning more about the brain, which is a point of Neuralink.

  10. Dave 126

    The professor knows his field. However, he doesn't seem to grok Musk's usual MO - i.e state an improbably far off goal as a definition of a direction, then build a profitable business model that can does R&D in that direction.

    The professor is right to take every opportunity to remind us of how inappropriate the computer analogy of the human brain is. It is an analogy that has been too often used in popular culture. Musk already knows this. Neuralink could a way of learning more about how the brain does process information.

    Why? Because the short term market for devices that can treat range of medical conditions is large and clear. People have greater chance of getting neurological disorder in their lifetime now that we don't smoke ourselves into early heart attacks. Traumatic brain injuries, spinal injuries and amputations have risen due to military activities, and the medical techniques used to treat them have already been improved due to medics' greater experience. We already treat some Parkinsons patients by placing electrodes in their spine.

    Saying that you're walking to the sun after lunch is just another way of saying you're walking West.

    It should also be noted that Neuralink's demos have been to attract potential employees (who one assumes know their field and know that 'uploading memories' is decades away even if it ever is possible), not to attract funding (where one might be more careful of one's language because fund managers aren't usually technical specialists).

    Remembering and learning how different our brains are from computers is actually a fun exercise (well, fun for the sort of folk who read the Reg, I hope!), and might give clues to how computers might be improved. An example might be the layers of processing that start at our eyes, with information being discarded at each stage. Our brain never receives a high def video recording (which would be the crude video camera computer analogy). Now we have Sony building patten recognition algorithms into the camera sensors so that some processing can be done without reduntantly shunting HD video around networks (waste of limited power and bandwidth).

    It could be that in the future computers will become a more appropriate analogue of brains, because we will have created computers that are more like brains. Or rather bodies, since the human brain is lazy (er, efficient) and will outsource processing and memory to our nerves, our guts, our bodies, what we're holding in our hand at this moment, what room we're in, the colour temperature of ambient light etc

    There's only one way to find out. And dissecting twitter comments ain't it.

    1. Dave 126

      Anyone care to give their reasoning? :)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Dave 126

        Yes. You have just dissected a comment

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Mostly irrelevant pedantry, but:

      "Saying that you're walking to the sun after lunch is just another way of saying you're walking West."

      No it isn't. If you say you're walking to the sun, it means that you intend your destination to be the sun. If you're walking west, you can call it walking toward the sun, or marginally closer to the sun. If I choose to walk to France, then I must either set foot in France or admit that I've changed my goal.

      1. Dave 126

        Thanks for playing :)

        If an observer saw you walking West after lunch, they would not know whether your *intention* was to walk to the Sun or to walk to the next town - even if you stop at the town to sleep. To the observer your intention is irrelevant. The only difference is in your head.

        If you tell the observer that you are walking to the sun, he, being a reasonable sort, won't expect you to get there this afternoon - you are in no danger of misleading him in the medium term. Nor will the observer be surprised if he sees you go North for a bit to reach a river crossing - he'll expect you adapt to the landscape as you find it.

        By telling me you are walking to the Sun, you're actually giving me *useful* description of your direction of travel for the forseable future, especially when neither of us knows what lies over the next hill.

        (We won't speak about France because we haven't discovered it yet)

  11. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Nice one Adam Rutherford

    Similar misconceptions underpinned the 'beaming down' in Star Trek. Quite apart from the obvious defect of there being in many instances no receiving apparatus to do the re-assembly (as when they beam down onto a planetary surface in the open), the humungous amount of information transfer required to reconstitute a human plus all the extras (clothes, weapons &c.) and reconstitute them accurately precludes feasibility - if for no other reason than error rate.

    It also falls down over the ambiguity of whether the process transfers the original matter or replicates it. There's an episode in series one ('The Enemy Within') that suggests the latter, as Kirk gets split in two - a 'good guy' and a 'bad guy'. They're both Kirk's original height after the split, so their combined matter volume is twice that of Kirk before the split. If beaming was matter transference and the split was 50/50, we'd expect to have two rather smaller Kirks, each about 20% shorter than his 5'9" (i.e. about 4'7" each).

    The problem with the replication method is that once you've beamed down it's not really you any more.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: ST Transporter

      See Clifford Simak's Way station which explicitly has the original body is killed and disposed of, so it really only transfers the non-physical meta-data.

      In reality the Transporter was added to ST for budget reasons. The shuttle model too expensive. It's an impossible amount of data to transfer apart from the energy requirements which make the "replicator" also impossible.

      The problem with Musk, Zuckerberg and others is that they miss that SF is mostly entertainment and occasionally a warning. It's never intended as a blueprint. Read Shockwave Rider.

      1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

        Re: ST Transporter

        I have on occasion tried to explain to ST fans why teleport (as used in ST) is pretty much impossible. The main reason being E=MC2.

        Try teleporting a small melon from one location to another, and you'll be trying to capture, transport, and reassemble an amount of energy equivalent to the largest atomic weapon that man has been stupid enough to set off so far. Even an inefficiency of 0.01% in any stage of this process would be enough to 'destroy' the start location, the destination, and a line between the two.


        Now, teleportation by the folding of space is a different bucket of eels entirely. If you can distort space enough (think wormhole) then it is possible to connect two points in spacetime in such a way that it would resemble the teleport used in ST.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: ST Transporter

          What we need are Runcibles, and Sniper. See Neal Asher for me info.

          Can't remember which book it was, but highlighted some challenges, like Laws of motion. So for a short trip say Earth to Mars, so...

          Earth rotates at about 0.46km/s

          Earth orbits the Sun at 29.78km/s

          Mars rotates at about 0.24km/s

          Mars orbits the Sun at 24.007km/s

          So stepping from Earth to Mars would need to lose 78kg's worth of energy moving at around 6km/s to avoid making a mess of the arrivals hall. Can't remember which of Ashers books did that. Plus there's other fun, like keeping endpoints fixed. Would also be messy if say the Mars endpoint starts extruding into Earth's arrivals. Or just stepping through, so one foot's on Mars, the other still on Earth.

          But such are the joys of SF. Personally, I think if we can solve the brain copying, it'd be easier to teleport ourselves as data. Which still leaves the challenge of what to load that into at the other end. Could send our DNA ahead to get a clone sorted, but the brains wouldn't be directly compatible. Richard Morgan has fun with that, needlecasting minds into waiting sleeves.

      2. Dave 126

        Re: ST Transporter

        Some SF novels are just tech white papers wrapped around a few characters. All business plans are speculative. Some SF is escapist, some is a warning. It can make people despondent, it can be a call to action. Sometimes patents are science fiction, in that they can't be built with existing technology - they are literally schematics, even if they are not blue in colour.

        I'm not sure that an SF writers intent is sacred when we're asking questions about how our real technology might progress, either.

        Musk has financed OpenAI, a research company with the stated aim of ensuring guture AI doesn't go a bit Skynet (I paraphrase), proof that Musk has heard of the warnings, even if you might believe he's only paying lip service to them.

        Thanks for the book recommendation, it looks interesting. I'll look out for it.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nice one Adam Rutherford

      Star Trek also had a "magic" body scanner that was pure fiction at the time. However it was the inspiration for the invention of the MRI body scanners we have today.

      Don't write anything off completely.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Nice one Adam Rutherford

        "Star Trek also had a "magic" body scanner that was pure fiction at the time. However it was the inspiration for the invention of the MRI body scanners we have today."

        Rubbish. The physics used for MRI was somewhat understood before that, and like other physical discoveries, the idea to use it for medical purposes was kind of obvious. Just as when x-rays were fashioned into a scanner, the idea to see if this thing can tell us about the insides of the thing we don't want to take apart wasn't hard to come up with. Nobody needed to have a popular science fiction show to show them that medical scanning was useful, especially as existing medical scanners using different imaging technology already existed in real life.

    3. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: Nice one Adam Rutherford

      "if for no other reason than error rate."

      But surely, IPv3001 will be error-correcting?

  12. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: 640k is enough for anyone!

      It's all time dependent.

      Before my first cup of tea in the morning, my mental state could be recorded in far less than 640k.

    2. Dave 126

      Re: 640k is enough for anyone!

      Talked about yes. We're already so, are we not? Legislation... regarding what, exactly? Or rather, how do you think medical ethics boards that are currently involved in decisions around experimental treatments are failing patitients today? When you suggest legislation, is it because you feel ethics boards won't be up the task in future? Or do you mean that a technology that could, eg place false memories in us, require a different regulatory framework to that used to govern mere medical procedures?

      As a culture, we do talk about these far off issues today, often through the medium of SF. The issue of false memories or false identities? Phillip K Dick's We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, made into the film Total Recall. More Dick stories gave been made into movies than other SF writers, his themes of the fearful fragility of human identity are mainstream in our culture, it could be argued.

      In the present day there are people whose brains are either probed, cut, zapped or have devices implanted into them. These are today's medical techniques. It is in treating these sort of conditions that Neuralinks business model will be based on for the foreseeable future.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Dave 126 - Re: 640k is enough for anyone!

        Nah, not for treating conditions! It will be way more interesting for military and law enforcement first, then for advertising and last, medical techniques for those who can afford the treatment.

  13. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Fitted into the skull

    "Fitted into the skull, the implant will connect "micron-scale threads [that] are inserted into areas of the brain that control movement"

    OK Elon - you go first.

    It's amazing how many fantastically dangerous propositions keep being made by tech plutocrats who expect other folks to adopt them.

    1. Dave 126

      Re: Fitted into the skull

      What are you saying - that an engineer that designs an artifical hip joint has to have it fitted to themselves first?

      Invasive brain procedures are already used to treat patients. The medical staff care. They are highly trained and experienced. They operate within an environment with oversight and ethics boards. Some would-be patients have spent years campaigning for effective treatments to be developed (e.g superman actor and paraplegic Christopher Reeve). This is the market that Neuralink is aiming at, and an area its founding staff have experience with.

      Nobody is expecting 'fantastically dangerous' procedures to be done without the risk benfit analysis that is done for any surgical procedure. Where did you get that idea from?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Fitted into the skull

        @Dave 126

        Quote Nobody is expecting 'fantastically dangerous' procedures to be done without the risk benfit analysis Unquote. You spelled "benefit wrong"

        The risk is to the people who sign up to "test" the scheme.

        The benefit is to the rich people who benefit from the little people risking their lives for a few bob.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Dave 126 - Re: Fitted into the skull

        Ethics are flexible in case you didn't know. Enjoy reading about the Montreal experiments.

    2. Down not across

      Re: Fitted into the skull

      Fitted into the skull, the implant will connect "micron-scale threads [that] are inserted into areas of the brain that control movement" and can be charged wirelessly.

      Is that like the Borg regeneration pods?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All part of his grand plan to rule the world

    Lord high Muck wants to replace all workers with his robots. The more he can make them humanoid the better in his eyes.

    Quite who could afford to even rent one of his badly assembled computers on wheels (YMMV) when none of us has a job is way beyond his comprehension.

  15. Plest Silver badge

    Musk likes to dream big, good luck to him

    Sometimes it's fun for people to dream big or bizarre, oddballs like Musk make the world a more interesting place. If people are daft enough to think they're getting a "Dream/Thought Machine" from MuskTech next year, more fool them.

  16. Boolian

    The possible and the improbable

    Memories are already encoded - every written word, every photograph, audio recording, every video.

    It's why we do it in the first place, to store and retrieve memories and 'downoad them into the brain'.

    So, the missing step is the interface - the primary senses for registering them..'Neural links' for those senses already exist, or in progress and some very succesful (as others have mentioned)

    Yes, I'm wilfully misunderstanding what is being touted (some direct, psuedo encoding of the base, ephemeral memories themselves) but the alternative is only one step removed and very achievable.

    Direct VR implanting basically, including the tactile - tricky but not beyond the bounds of possibilty.

    Identifying and encoding a 'memory' from and then subsequently squirting it back somewhere into the corresponding little grey cells though? Yeah.... improbable, god-level cockwaffle.

    It's such a fine line between stupid and clever, just a little turn around...

  17. spold Silver badge

    My takeaway was....

    My monkey Pongs....

  18. Death Boffin


    One way to get an idea of the complexity of the brain is to consider it as a billion years of spaghetti code.

    1. hayzoos

      Re: Brainwaves

      A good start. Reality of programming has a few more factors to throw in. How many programming languages are used in the lifetime of the billion year spaghetti code project? How many libraries are referenced? How many programming methods evolve? Over a billion years many more factors may arise that we have not yet experienced in the programming history we know so far.

      And the answer is 42.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Makes me proud (for once)

    to be British.

    "Absolute balls. This is god-level cockwaffle, typical of the manballs beloved of these ignorant dorks".

    This is so politically incorrect, so deliciously not "woke", that all I can say is, eat it "paedo guy"...

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Helping the disabled would be impressive enough without fantasy-land BS like "saving memories", but that is Musk in a nutshell - unfiltered BS from someone too rich for people to say "No!" to.

    1. Dave 126

      If I were running Neuralink, I would think twice about making any claims about helping disabled people in the near term. The media would pick my words up and then squish them into a Miracle Breakthrough! headline, and six months later write negative stories about my failure to deliver said cures. And that's just media business as usual- in the wake of the Theranos fraud trial, I'd be extra cautious.

      Yknow, if were running Neuralink, saying that I'd like to make a Banksiain Neural Lace in the distant future isnt the worst idea. No patients' hopes will be raised, nobody will be disappointed if I don't deliver it, and the media attention will aid my recruiting drive.

  21. nautica Silver badge

    Musk and Trump have a lot in common...

    Elon Musk is, as the famous saying goes, " full of shit as a Christmas goose."

  22. Mystereed

    Lie detector as a possible use case?

    A dangerous possible use if it does get up and running is as a lie detector?

    Would it be any more reliable than the ones which have been debunked over the years as actually being stress detectors? The BS artists and fantasists can breeze through those?

    I promise to think the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth...?

    1. Dave 126

      Re: Lie detector as a possible use case?

      Well, if your interrogators are in a position to unilaterally insert a probe through your skull, you would exhibit physiological signs of stress.

  23. ravenviz Silver badge

    It's mind boggling (pun intended) that the brain seems hugely over capacity compared to the conscious thought processes of most of their occupants.

  24. Winkypop Silver badge

    As mad as a cut snake on a hot tin roof

    See title

  25. Amblyopius

    As usual it's all semantics, what can be defined as "reliving a memory"?

    Why bother with brains if saving/replaying memories just requires you to record/replay signals? Memories are fairly inaccurate remnants of what we perceived and they are not really "stored". If I need to remember a concert I went to, I listen/view a recording of it. In order to do the same on a person-by-person level you need the ability to record the signals going towards the brains and you leave the interpretations of it up to the brain. Bonus is of course you can discover endless amounts of things in those "memories" that you can not discover in actual memories.

    The ability to develop recording/replay devices to record these signals is going to outpace the development of interpretation of what is actually stored/processed in the brain for quite some time and the quality of the memories will be better.

    There are obviously things you can not record such as "what were your thoughts at the time" but we generally strive to remember what we saw, heard, tasted ... so why not just record it before the interpretation is done and replay it after. It makes much more sense.

    Competing products? Well, you could of course just equip everyone with cameras and audio recording devices, do a reconstruction of the world based on that and then allow people to relive in VR. Quite a few privacy issues of course, given it allows for after the facts eavesdropping on any conversation but comes with the advantage that you can change what you do rather than just relive.

    Endless possibilities, just none that really record brains. The detailed recording of brains for the sake of memories is fairly pointless really.

  26. hayzoos

    battery and such

    Wireless charging, hmm, good idea. Is the battery replaceable? Oh, wait, can the battery overheat, bulge, catch fire, explode? One can only hope that a proven medical device battery technology be considered rather than being cool with the latest tech all around. Will the device be crackable/hackable?

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