Please Tell Elon Musk That Putting an Audio Chip in Your Brain Sounds Terrible

Why would you put an implant in your skull to listen to music when you could wear headphones, buy speakers, or try literally anything else?
July 24, 2020, 1:26pm
Image via Pixabay

Yesterday, the LinkedIn page for Neuralink shared its first update in more than four months, posting a screenshot of a recent tweet from Elon Musk and reiterating that it's hiring. "As Elon mentions, we're looking for engineers who've solved hard problems with phones and wearables," it wrote. "The world has done so much to optimize telecommunications signals. Now it's time to do the same for brain signals." 

The San Francisco-based company describes itself as a developer of "ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers," which is a multisyllabic way of saying that it wants to implant a tiny chip in people's brains. Neuralink was co-founded by Musk in 2016, but it hasn't shared anything new about its mission or its progress since last July, when it posted an ODESZA-soundtracked introductory video and Musk briefly discussed the concept of having ultra-thin "threads" implanted in your brain to "achieve a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence.”

Earlier this month, Musk took a sec from posting Dogecoin memes to write that an update about Neuralink's progress would be coming on August 28. He also responded to someone who asked him whether, after implementing neuralink, it would be possible to "listen to music directly from our chips?" Musk simply wrote "Yes," but that has caused all new speculation about whether or not that's a possibility, with Neuralink or anything else.

The idea of transmitting some sounds directly into our heads without headphones or speakers isn't new; Beethoven apparently connected one end of a rod to the sounding board inside his piano and bit down on the other end so he could "hear" the vibrations. Some 'bone-conduction' headphones, bone-anchored hearing implants, and hearing aids work in a similar manner, transmitting vibrations through the bones of the skull to bypass the outer ear and hit the inner ear directly. But none of that involves implanting anything directly into your brain, and it's probably not what Musk meant when he typed that "Yes" on Twitter. 

The whole "chip that plays music in your head" thing is also the latest deviation from Neuralink's original concept. According to Scientific American writer Gary Stix, when the company launched, the idea was that the technology might allow quadriplegics, amputees, or those who had suffered brain injuries to use their thoughts to operate their phones or computers. 

But Musk has dreamed even bigger, suggesting that Neuralink could ultimately become a Marvel-worthy mashup of AI and our brains, giving the wearer "superhuman intelligence." (Stix called that "an objective that is much more hype than an actual plan for new technology development." Noam Chomsky has also suggested that "there's no way" for an existing technology to interpret our thoughts.)

It's hard to even speculate what Musk might reveal during that late-August update. Last year, Neuralink did say that it had successfully placed an implant in a rat's brain and suggested that human tests could begin as early as this year—although its co-founder and president Max Hodak also acknowledged that the implantation process currently involves drilling four holes in the skull. 

On one hand, being able to think about a song and then hear it directly in your own head might be worth it. On the other, there are definite risks. "You guys really want to wear brain implants made by a billionaire tech magnate," one voice of reason tweeted. "Isn't that the start of like every dystopian future movie?" 

Maybe. Or maybe it's just a way to stop worrying about losing a single AirPod.