Given that the technology around which the EMPATHY series centers is an internet-access brain implant, let’s take a moment to explore how close we are (or aren’t) to having such a thing in real life.
Back in March of 2017, I wrote this blog post about Neuralink, which this article from The Verge describes as Elon Musk’s “venture to merge the human brain with AI.” At a first glance, it seems, then, that we might be closer to human-internet-oneness than one might have otherwise thought.
Not so fast, though. The goal of the Neuralink enterprise might ultimately be to enhance the brain itself, but for now—at least according to this report from Wait But Why—their plan is to focus first on treating serious brain diseases.
This is a noble to be sure, but exactly how close is Neuralink to achieving this goal before moving onto the kind of enhancement that figures broadly into the EMPATHY series?
A quick peek at the Neuralink site tells us very little. As of the time of this post, it’s nothing more than a brief description of what they do, followed by a listing of job openings they currently have, which is actually quite a few. Further to that point, the postings themselves cite that they are “building a team” as opposed to using language like “join a team.”
Perhaps it’s inadvisable to read too deeply into this, but it would seem that, at least on the surface, Neuralink is rather far away from having much to boast about. A check for Neuralink in the news shows that they’re funding primate research at the University of California, but it also reveals they might have actually fallen behind their competition, a startup by the name of Nuro that has engineered software one can control with the brain directly—without the need for brain surgery.
So how does it work? According to Business Insider, “it involves translating data from brainwaves into simple commands that can be processed in an app or device.” Similarly to Neuralink, Nuro plans to first use this software to help treat symptoms associated with traumatic brain injuries.
In the case of Nuro, this goal is not only noble, but it’s one they’ve already achieved with some success as the video in this post shows. Through the use of their own software connected to Amazon’s Alexa, a nonverbal coma survivor is able to ask Alexa to play Top 40 music, and can also speak to those in the room through the interface, which is, in the patient’s opinion, a significant improvement over having to spell things out for his loved ones one letter at a time.
How does this all figure into EMPATHY, then?
Though not the primary focus of EMPATHY’s engineering in the book series, the use of it as a technology to help those with brain trauma does figure into the nanochip’s long-term development. In other words, Human/Etech—the company that’s created EMPATHY—takes a distinct approach from Neuralink and Nuro, first aiming to introduce it as an info-centric resource before seeing what it might be able to do for individuals who are either in or who have recovered from comas, for example.
As a physical product, EMPATHY is more similar to Elon Musk’s Neuralink or Mark Zuckerberg’s Building 8 projects that will, at least according to the rumors, require brain surgery in order to use them.
How close is EMPATHY to making it to market? Well, as Imminent Dawn kicks off, the first round of human trials for the implant are already well underway, and the narrative itself plays out over the course of those trials. Whether they’re ultimately successful—or whether they achieve the kind of success Human/Etech originally hoped for—remains to be seen, but you’ll be able to find out exactly how it goes for them when Imminent Dawn is released in January 2019.