The Internet of Brains
When Neurotech Reports began operations in 2001, the Internet had only been around a few years and the e-commerce industry was still in its infancy. Though we believed at the time that consumer and computer applications of neurotechnology would soon emerge (and we highlighted one early vendor in our first issue), we could not have predicted that three pioneers in the payment-processing industry would become major individual funders of neurotech firms.
But such is the case now that Peter Thiel, one of the founders of Confinity, which became PayPal, has invested in Blackrock Neurotech (a new branding from Blackrock Microsystems), in what is reported to be a $10 million financing round. Thiel joins Elon Musk, who founded x.com, and Bryan Johnson, who founded Braintree, as e-commerce pioneers who have invested heavily in neurotech startups or emerging firms.
While the dollar value of Thiel’s investment is likely less than what Musk and Johnson have pumped into Neuralink and Kernel, respectively, the fact that he has chosen to fund an existing vendor of brain-computer interfaces rather than launch his own makes this noteworthy. Though Blackrock’s device was derided by Musk as a “box on your head,” the company points out that its NeuroPort Array is used by 28 of the 30 people currently living with an implanted BCI. And while Musk has certainly generated a lot of publicity for Neuralink and BCI technology in general, not all of it has been positive.
One critic, Kip Ludwig from the University of Wisconsin, recently tweeted, “I really do want to support Neuralink, but I can’t support Elon’s frequent combination of scientific ignorance and blatant lying. Just stop it. Bad Musk.” This was in response to a headline in Science Times that read “Neuralink Brain Chip Will End Language in 5 to 10 Years.” That headline may have exaggerated the prediction that Musk actually made with Joe Rogan, but we were more concerned with his claim that the Neuralink device could “restore limb functionality” and return a quadriplegic to “full functionality” without explaining how his brain implant would overcome an injury at the spinal cord level.
Musk’s investment in Neuralink has certainly helped create some promising technology, including a neurosurgical robot that could streamline the implantation process, and he has attracted some talented neural engineers and neuroscientists. But not all of them have stuck around. Neuralink president Max Hodak recently announced he was leaving, joining Philip Sabes, Vanessa Tolosa, and others as ex-employees.
As we’ve said before, the race to build the best BCI will be a long one and Blackrock Neurotech will certainly have its share of competition. But we think there’s value in the old adage, “Under-promise and over-deliver.”
Editor and Publisher