The visionary’s new company may bring us one step closer to becoming sexual cyborgs.
Could we one day orgasm at the touch of a button? Share sexual experiences between brains? Some futurists think so. And we may have just moved a step closer.
Elon Musk, billionaire business magnate and tech mogul, has launched a startup called Neuralink, which aims to connect brains and computers using implantable electrodes. Musk hopes that these “neural laces”—a term borrowed from the science-fiction novels of Iain M. Banks—will allow humans to remain competitive with advanced AI.
Musk isn’t alone in this ambition. Last year entrepreneur Bryan Johnson founded the firm Kernel with the same basic goals. Its Chief Science Officer, biomedical engineer Theodore Berger, has made impressive headway on an implant that facilitates the formation of long-term memories.
While the intention of these enterprises is to augment human cognitive functions, futurists have speculated that similar tech could one day transform how humans relate, including our sexual relationships.
The idea has long been a staple of science fiction.
The neural laces of Banks’s utopian Culture novels are biomechanical meshes that regulate endogenous chemicals, increase memory storage, and enhance intelligence. They also augment orgasms.
On the big screen, the Woody Allen movie Sleeper famously features an electromechanical cylinder called an “orgasmatron” that induces instant orgasms. In the action movie Demolition Man, a bemused Sylvester Stallone dons a helmet-like device that digitizes and transfers brain waves, for extra-safe, no-contact sex. More recently, an episode of Black Mirror presents a future in which people have neural implants called “grains” recording everything they see, allowing them to rewatch past sexual experiences.
Now, these fantasies are becoming predictions for the near future. Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google, projects that by the late 2030s, nanobots will allow human brains and computer networks to merge, leading to novel sexual experiences that integrate augmented and virtual realities.
A different take on the same theme is offered by futurologist Ian Pearson, who expects the invention of a smart “skin” able to digitize, record, and replay physical sensations. Using such tech, users will be able to transfer sensations between bodies, enabling on-demand orgasms and networked sex.
A Future of Sex Report predicts that brain-to-brain interfaces will create the possibility of direct sexual stimulation by 2027. According to this report, neural headsets have also begun to show people when their brain waves patterns match up, opening up exciting potential for intimacy by literally helping lovers get on the same wavelength.
Implants and interfaces
There are some precedents for the idea that implants could provide sexual stimulation, or connect minds.
Today, electrode implants are sometimes used to help people with neurological disorders such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s. Dr. Stuart Meloy, a physician in North Carolina, has claimed that his spinal cord stimulators, originally developed for medical purposes, also trigger orgasms. The device, activated by remote control, has been referred to as a real-life “orgasmatron”. However, while Meloy’s discovery created much buzz in the media, the implant’s first trial was limited, involving 11 women and no control group. The stimulator has yet to be commercialized.
Another hope lies in the field of brain-computer interfaces, such as Musk hopes to develop. Brain-computer interfaces are not new. Today they are used mostly in neuroprosthetics. But in 2013, researchers at the University of Washington succeeded in automating a process in which one subject’s intention to move his right hand activated a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil worn by another subject, causing the latter to perform the imagined movement.
This is a far cry, however, from transferring complex thoughts or emotions. More detailed input would require something much more complex—something woven into the very fabric of our brain. Something like a neural lace.
A long road
Although scientists have made injectable neural meshes for mice that monitor brain activity, the creation of neural implants that allow complex brain-to-computer interfacing, or mind-to-mind communication, will take many years of research. We are far off from understanding the complexities of the human brain, a first requirement.
But Musk’s intention to create brain-computer networks takes us that much closer to realizing possibilities which have hitherto remained science fiction.
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