"It has a very good goal, which is to cure important diseases and ultimately to help secure the future of humanity as a civilization relative to AI," Musk said.
He revealed that Neuralink implants were successfully tested in monkeys at a California university laboratory.
"Monkeys have been able to control computers with their brains, only FYI," Musk said, surprising Neuralink's president during a question and answer session.
Experts remain cautious about his vision to combine thoughts with highly sophisticated computing.
Musk's description "really is a vision of aspiration for something very far ahead," Andrew Southern University assistant professor of biological sciences Andrew Hires said.
"It is not clear whether we will get to that stage."
Neuralink launches a small sensor with hair-thin strands of hair that can be implanted in the brain through a small incision by a robot made for high-precision tasks.
"In the end, we can interface the full brain machine," Musk said.
"Achieve a kind of symbiosis with artificial intelligence."
For now, the goal is to let someone with an implant control a smartphone with thought, but the technology can eventually extend to other devices such as robotic arms, he said.
The initial focus is to use technology to deal with brain disease and paralysis, but the longer goal is to make implants safe, reliable, and easy so they can be an option for people who want to improve their brains with computational power, according to the Neuralink team.
"It's not that Neuralink suddenly has this incredible nerve lace and that it will start taking over people's brains," Musk joked.
"It will take a long time, and you will see it coming."
Musk said the goal was to make additional implants that enhance the brain as easily as laser eye surgery procedures.
Mystery of mind
David Schneider, a professor at the neuroscience center at New York University, was among those who saw obstacles.
The main limitation is that a number of brain regions are involved in handling tasks, while implants target one part at a time.
"In the end, everything we do, regardless of how simple it looks, is a distributed brain function," Schneider said.
While technology has increased to read information coming out of the brain, it is not difficult to send it back to all the necessary parts simultaneously, according to the researchers.
"They are humble enough to admit their main target is the motorbike area," Ramana Vinjamuri, an engineering professor at Stevens Institute of Technology, said about Neuralink.
"I'm glad they stopped there instead of claiming we would read your mind, your thoughts, your memories – if they did I would laugh out loud."
Another challenge is that brain implants trigger the body's defenses, which treat it as foreign material to be rejected.
"Let's say Neuralink places it on someone tomorrow, will the interface last after one year and still continue to give the same signal as the first day?" Vinjamuri said.
And regulatory approvals will usually require long-term testing in animals.
Neuralink can look for exceptions to "investigative tools" to try implants in some patients who experience spinal injuries or strokes.
"I don't know that I want to unite my brain with AI, I also don't think much of us," Schneider said.
The hope is that Neuralink innovations can restore vision, or cure paralysis.
For now, Musk brings energy and private investment to the brain implant area that researchers have worked on for decades with government funding.
"We need fantastic thinkers, but we also need capital and the courage to invest a lot of capital in perfecting this technology," Hires said.
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