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Elon Musk’s secretive brain-machine venture, Neuralink, offers a glimpse

August 28, 2020, 2:48 PM UTC

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Good morning, Term Sheet readers. A few things to keep track of, on what could have been a sleepy Friday:

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has no shortage of futuristic, and quite literally moonshot projects in the works. Neuralink, a neurotechnology company founded ostensibly to keep humans on par with advanced machines and A.I., is among them.

On Friday at 3 p.m. PT, the secretive brain-machine company founded by Musk plans to show a working “V2” of the device it first revealed a year ago. “It will blow your mind,” Musk wrote in a tweet.

What exactly the technology is capable of is still a topic of fascination, and at the center of  daydreams for any sci-fi nerd. Neuralink’s product is a small chip implant stitched into the brain via a network of wires, with the goal of one day building an implant that is capable of helping people control computers and smartphones with a thought. Last year, Neuralink showed a product designed to eventually treat those with traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries. However, the plan expands perhaps even beyond that: On Twitter, Musk has painted a picture of a product that could one day treat addiction and depression, manage obsessive compulsive disorder, and help manage conditions ranging from autism to ALS. Even when asked if Neuralink’s product would allow users to stream music, Musk responded “yes” via Twitter.

As exciting as it is, the venture, which also has raised funding from Craft Ventures and DFJ Growth, is not the only company trying to build a human-machine interface. There’s also CTRL-Labs (acquired by Facebook in 2019), which is developing a non-invasive method of translating muscle impulses into digital signals. Another, called Kernel, also has been operating in the arena.

For now, it’s still the early innings for Neuralink—the company is awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Walmart gets in on TikTok: Yes, Walmart is now pursuing TikTok’s U.S. operations, aligning itself with Microsoft as Oracle reportedly stands with Sequoia and General Atlantic with a competing bid. So why would a retailer insert itself in a tech fight? Well, technology is eating the world and Walmart is hoping to boost its digital footprint as it goes head-to-head with Amazon—and it has a lot of room to make that transition: Walmart’s online business is just 5% of its total sales. The retailer’s interest in TikTok also signifies a bet on the youngest generation of consumers, given that the app’s average user skews toward Gen Z.

Lucinda Shen
Twitter: @shenlucinda


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