Elon Musk’s displayed willingness to quickly burn bridges with anyone who opposes him at his assortment of companies might be biting him in the ass. In the most recent case, Neuralink’s former president, who parted ways with the company last year, now has his own rival brain company with $160 million in total funding. In the BCI world, according to Bloomberg, that’s second only to Neuralink.
Neuralink’s co-founder and former president Max Hodak emerged from the shadows this month with a new brain computer interface startup called Science Corp. Though the companies seem similar, the secretive startup has one potentially major advantage over Musk’s brain company. Unlike Neuralink, Science Corp’s interface won’t force users to drill holes into their heads or, presumably, the heads of unwilling test subjects.
Science’s BCI approach, detailed in a Bloomberg report, relies on the science of photonics which uses light sent through a patient’s optic nerve to transmit information. In theory, Hodak believes this method could yield similar types of applications as those pursued by Neuralink, which include treating patients with extreme disabilities before one day enhancing humans’ cognition and computation abilities. Hodak says his company has already developed a prototype device called “Science Eye” capable of treating vision loss in test rabbits. That prototype uses a 2-millimeter wide thin LED film implanted on top of a rabbit’s retina capable of processing patterns sent to it wirelessly.
Hodak says he wants to begin testing on humans in the coming years but if Nueralink’s history is any guide, that timeline may be easier said than done. Neuralink, which captured the minds of transhumanists and Silicon Valley venture capitalists alike when it launched in 2016, has so far failed to gain FDA approval to test its device in humans. Instead, its most important research gains have come through testing on macaque monkeys, a practice some animal rights groups have characterized as cruel, or in some alleged cases, gruesomely horrific.
Their methods may differ, but Hodak’s end goal appears similar to Musk’s. Just like Neuralink, Science wants to begin using its technology to treat people with disabilities in need before eventually progressing the tech to a point where it could be used as an ability enhancer.
“We’re starting in very disabled patient populations with serious unmet needs,” Hodak said in an interview with Bloomberg. “But if you refine that technology five or six generations, you get to replace glasses and [virtual reality] goggles with just the tiny little implant in the eye.”
Hodak parted ways with Neuralink in May 2021. Though it remains unclear whether Hodak left willingly or was fired, he did appear to take a jab at Musk on Twitter following his announcement. In response to a tweet from another user expressing criticism of Musk’s leadership style, Hodak simply wrote, “same.” In the year since, Futurism says Neuralink hasn’t confirmed whether Hodak left or was fired.
Neuralink did not respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.