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Elon Musk
Elon Musk muses at SpaceX’s Mission Control. (SpaceX Photo)

Billionaire brainiac Elon Musk is following up on his interest in (and wariness about) artificial intelligence by backing Neuralink Corp., a company devoted to developing neural implants, The Wall Street Journal says.

Business filings suggest that Neuralink would build devices designed to treat or diagnose neurological conditions, and conceivably augment human cognitive powers.

The Journal quoted entrepreneur-futurist Max Hodak as confirming Musk’s involvement in Neuralink, which Hodak said was still an “embryonic” venture.

Musk, 45, is the CEO of SpaceX, a venture that’s launching reusable rockets, working on communication satellites and setting its sights on Mars settlement. He’s also the CEO of Tesla Motors, which sells electric cars, battery storage systems and solar panels.

In addition to those formal business roles, he’s worked on innovations such as the Hyperloop high-speed transit scheme and concepts for underground tunneling. But he’s always reserved mental and financial bandwidth for the issues surrounding artificial intelligence.

More than a year ago, he joined in a $1 billion commitment to support OpenAI, a nonprofit venture which conducts research into applications of AI tech. And in a series of pronouncements, he has voiced concern about the possibility that AI could supplant humanity sometime in the decades ahead.

Last August, Musk told one questioner on Twitter that he was “making progress” on an idea that would incorporate a system for plugging tiny electrodes into the brain, known as neural lace.

“Maybe something to announce in a few months,” he said.

Musk also tweeted about the topic in January, saying that the development of human augmentation devices incorporating artificial intelligence was “critical to ensure a good future for humanity.”

In a Vanity Fair article published online today, Musk once again touted the idea of merging biological intelligence with machine intelligence. “For a meaningful partial-brain interface, I think we’re roughly four or five years away,” he said.

Neuralink has been taking shape as a commercial venture over the course of the past year. It was registered in California as a medical research company in July, and a trademark application was filed in October.

Citing unnamed sources familiar with the venture, the Journal reported that Musk has discussed financing Neuralink primarily by himself, with the possibility of bringing in other investors such as Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.

The Journal also quoted a source as saying that Neuralink already has hired several leading researchers – including Vanessa Tolosa of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Philip Sabes of the University of California at San Francisco and Timothy Gardner of Boston University.

For what it’s worth, the researchers’ LinkedIn pages don’t yet reflect that, but Gardner confirmed to the Journal that he’s working for Neuralink.

Also for what it’s worth, the webpage – which was once associated with a different venture that had the same name – now provides an email address for job applications, and nothing else.

Update for 10:30 p.m. PT March 27: Musk confirmed that he was involved with Neuralink in the usual way: by tweeting about it.

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