Elon Musk’s brain is not like most. When he is not happy with how something works, he reinvents it: cars, rockets – and now cities. This week, he announced that he was planning a new city in South Texas called “Starbase.”
The idea is to take over the uninhabited coastal village of Boca Chica, a kind of mini-Texan Cape Canaveral about 355 miles from Austin, where SpaceX already has a massive rocket facility. It’s all part of his mission to bring humans to Mars this decade. (Although one of the prototype Starship rockets this week went up in flames during a test flight, a not unexpected part of training kinks.)
Now he uses his own superpower, his intellect, to give people a chance to be as smart as he is. He can change our minds forever with Neuralink, which aims to use implanted brain chips to improve the human body ̵
Then there are his other sidesteps, such as the HyperLoop transport network – like a high-speed rail, but with pressurized capsules – designed by his Boring Company or his Starlink satellite system.
There is no doubt about Musk’s intelligence, or curiosity, or even his bandwidth to change the world. But as his big ego and Twitter explosions get him in trouble, some skeptics wonder if he’s just an ego-crazy billionaire: superhero or supervillain?
“There’s definitely something superhuman or even alien to his brain,” groundbreaking player and engineer Garry Kitchen told The Post.
“Something happens as if it shoots at all cylinders all the time, like a kind of mutation or DNA malfunction. The same can be said about Einstein who described physics at the age of 22. But what makes Musk different is how he sees no boundaries and is not afraid. And he does not care if people think he is crazy. That is what makes him completely unique. ”
While his future “Starbase” and his exploding rocket attracted attention this week, pigs with microchips with names like Gertrude, Barbara, Cleo and Dorothy went on treadmills at the launch of the brain implant in San Francisco. The pigs, and at least one monkey, are actually test pilots, as Musk’s team develops high-bandwidth interfaces to connect humans and computers.
Neuralink was formed in 2016 and is one of Musk’s more secretive offshoots. The immediate goals of the work are to treat traumatic brain injuries. Musk says that paralyzed people who, for example, can have Neuralink’s electronic brain chip installed in the skulls, may walk again.
“Think of it like Fitbit in your small-wire skull,” he said in a rare video from Neuralink’s headquarters in August about the implant, which is the size of a large coin. “You can get a link in an hour without general anesthesia and leave the hospital the same day. You need a great device and a great robot that puts in the electrodes and operates. ”
Musk has said that humans are “already cyborgs” because of access to smartphones and computers. Neuralink, he says, will close the gap and prepare us for the future. Adding a digital layer to the brain’s limbic system and cortex may be humanity’s only hope to match the exponential and possibly eerie increase in artificial intelligence. Otherwise, Musk said humans can drop to the level of “domestic cats.”
The MIT Technology Review spread Neuralink’s work as far as “neuroscience theater” and heavily on hype.
But Ray Kurzweil, Google’s engineering director and futurist credited the idea of ”singularity”, says machines can surpass humans in intelligence by 2030, and time is important for companies like Neuralink to help people keep up.
“To communicate directly with the brain, we need more speed,” Kurzweil told The Post. “When we get to the 2030s, we will have neural web technologies on Google that go far beyond what is possible today. These will. . . surpass human intelligence. For this to be something that makes people smarter instead of just competing with people, we need an ability to interact with our new bark. But it must be done at a fast pace, far greater than what we can do now. “
Musk bought the name Neuralink in 2017 from neurologist Randolph Nudo and Pedram Mohseni, an electrical engineer and Case Western Reserve professor, after the two branded it in 2015 for their own brain-start-up.
“I anchor him,” Nudo said in the post. “He had the money to put together a superb team of brain machine interface experts, and I’m hope the technology he’s developing will help us all.”
Neuralink’s day-to-day operations are run by a 32-year-old Duke University graduate and biomedical expert, Max Hodak, who describes himself as “a general San Francisco resident.”
Like much of the Musk Empire, Neuralink is moving from Silicon Valley to Texas – which has no personal income tax, while California has the highest in the country. Musk, who is worth 199.9 billion dollars and the world’s richest person, even moved to Austin last year, and SpaceX will reportedly build another factory in the city.
Neuralink will not answer questions from the media. Instead, the company has revealed some of its inner features in a few curated videos and efforts by intel from Musk.
Last month, he said that human studies of the brain chip could start this year. In an interview on the social network Clubhouse, Musk described a chipped monkey in the Neuralink labs who can only play video games with the help of his mind.
Such implants can be charged inductively like a watch or telephone – seamlessly without wires – Musk said. They can be inserted so that there is no bleeding or noticeable neural damage. After analyzing a pig test, called Dorothy, Musk claimed that an implant could be removed and either omitted or reinserted without apparent adverse effects.
In what he admittedly sounded like a “Black Mirror” episode, Musk said that humans could store, store and play their memories as a backup with the chip – and even download them into a new body or robot. He hopes the technology will benefit or cure patients with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
When Musk first unveiled his big new idea for brain technology in 2016, he described it as “neural lace.” It was the kind of sci-fi-like information the world has expected from Musk – despite his shortcomings and eccentricities and the story of strange tweeting.
Musk landed in court in 2019 in 2019 when lawyers for the Securities and Exchange Commission complained that tweets he made about the car company Tesla – including a reference to “420” pot culture – could “move markets.” Also in 2019, a British cave explorer who helped save a dozen boys and a football coach from a flooded Thailand cave sued Musk for defamation after Musk, in a tweet, branded him a “pedo guy.” Musk supported Kanye West’s presidential run in 2020, only to return.
But a longtime friend says that Musk is – more than anything else – a workaholic who barely sleeps because he wants things done.
“Elon Musk can be a fictional character,” Robert Zubrin, the head of the Mars Society who has known Musk for 20 years, told The Post. “He has been expected in science fiction. Just read the old novels of people like Robert Heinlein or Allen Steele who wrote about rich businessmen recruited by visionaries. ”
Two other wealthy magnates, Texas banker Andrew Beal and telecommunications entrepreneur Walt Anderson, tried their hand at private rocketry and failed. Musk’s longtime rival, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, has launched his own, called Blue Origin, but Zubrin says his money is on Musk.
“If Bezos wants to compete with Musk, he has to get out of the hot tub,” Zubrin said. “Musk is a lot tougher.”
Musk’s gravel was refined in a South African childhood that he has said was “like misery.”
He was born in Pretoria, and his parents, Maye Musk, a dietitian and model, and Errol Musk, a wealthy engineer, divorced when he was young. He and his brother Kimbal chose to live with their father.
“He was such a terrible person,” Musk said in 2017. “You have no idea. My father wants a carefully thought out evil plan … He’s done almost every crime you can think of. “
Musk left South Africa for his mother’s home country Canada in 1989 with little money and crashed on relatives’ couches in Saskatchewan. He earned his first millions by launching a web software called Zip2 and later founded the company that became PayPal.
Musk has been ridiculed and underestimated by experts in the industries he has tried to disrupt – just to show them off, like when he beat NASA to make a reusable spacecraft or make Tesla the world’s most valuable car company last year with a valuation of 208 billion dollars.
Even SpaceX’s rocket explosion this week is just one part of how Musk is tracking all of his technology.
“Musk’s method has much more in common with the early pioneers on the run,” Zubrin said.
“Elon builds them, crashes them, finds out what went wrong and tries again. Because of his willingness to fail, he succeeds much faster. NASA, on the other hand, has been working on something similar to this since 1988. All they do is analyze and analyze for decades. ”
Several researchers and engineers interviewed by The Post about Musk said they envy his fearlessness even more than his brain power.
For example, he first went to Moscow almost on a whim in 2000 to try to buy rockets (a Russian is said to have spat in Musk’s face). So he decided to build his own rockets and launched his first Falcon 1 in 2006 off a small desert island in the Pacific Ocean called Kwajalein Island – one of Musk’s lesser known Jules Verne-type companies.
Author Eric Berger, who spent time with Musk in SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California, planted and flew with him to Boca Chica on his private jet, told The Post that Musk’s brain is unusual.
“I’ve talked to Stephen Hawking four times,” said Berger, whose book, “Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX,” was released on March 2.
“But Musk is absolutely brilliant. This is someone who is thinking on another level. ”
For all of Musk’s alien-like intellect, Berger said he was struck by how normal Musk seemed with his children. Despite reported 120-hour work week and bouts of insomnia, Musk manages to see his six boys weekly. (Five sons are with his first wife, Justine Musk, while the youngest, X Æ A-Xii, was born by Musk and singer Grimes in 2020.)
“He works incredibly hard,” Berger said. “But he also brings his children with him quite regularly. When he was with them, he seemed like a regular dad. And they seemed to like him a lot. He was definitely the father of them, not the great Elon Musk. ”