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Silicon Valley literally wants to get into your head any way it can

Hasan Chowdhury   

Silicon Valley literally wants to get into your head — any way it can
  • Silicon Valley wants to expand its reach beyond your smartphone.
  • The first human patient has received a brain chip implant from Elon Musk's Neuralink.

Silicon Valley doesn't just want to be in your pocket or on your arm anymore.

After spending years getting people hooked on smartphones, tech leaders have been scrambling to figure out what comes next.

In part, they've been driven by a growing sense that we might have reached peak smartphone.

Apple's new iPhone each year looks virtually identical to its predecessor. The Samsung Galaxy S24's exterior is a carbon copy of the S23. Meanwhile, market saturation and sales have slowed with global smartphone shipments dropping 3.2% to 1.17 billion units in 2023, per data from IDC.

Where next, then? Closer to our brains, apparently, in whatever shape or form is possible.

Mind control

This year, Silicon Valley seems finally ready to introduce the world to devices such as brain interfaces, while the likes of virtual reality headsets and augmented reality goggles begin to mature as a product categories.

On Monday, Elon Musk announced that the first patient had received a brain chip implant from Neuralink, his secretive company.

"The first human received an implant from @Neuralink yesterday and is recovering well," the billionaire wrote on his social media site, X. "Initial results show promising neuron spike detection."

According to Musk, the goal of Neuralink since its founding in 2016 has been to create a brain interface laced with high-grade AI that allows humans to "control a computer or mobile device" with their minds.

It sounds like the stuff of sci-fi, but Neuralink's touted the potential benefits of this technology — a product Musk has called "Telepathy" — in fields such as medicine.

"Initial users will be those who have lost the use of their limbs," Musk wrote. "Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer. That is the goal."

Musk has a lot more in mind for this technology, however. At an event held at Neuralink's Fremont office in December 2022, he played a video showing a monkey playing a game of Pong without touching a gaming pad as an illustration of what a Neuralink chip could do.

This stuff is still clearly a long way from mainstream adoption — and whether it will even get that chance is unclear.

Monkeys have died following Neuralink trials, though the company denies they're linked to its experiments. Neuralink has also been the subject of a federal probe amid concerns it had violated the Animal Welfare Act.

But others are ready to have a crack at making the technology work too. China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology disclosed plans to create brain-computer interfaces that rival Neuralink by 2025 — a move sure to stoke competition.

But first, headsets

If that vision of a post-smartphone future seems too radical, tech companies have some headwear they'd like you to try out instead.

Apple is set to launch its Vision Pro headset on Friday in what it describes as its big foray into "spatial computing." The $3,500 goggles incorporate virtual and augmented reality to give users a more immersive experience of the internet.

As Apple puts it, "your apps live in your space." That space is essentially your head, with the Vision Pro built to create a canvas that emerges before your eyes while you wear it.

As much as an answer to the "what comes after the iPhone?" question, the Vision Pro is also a response to the growing suite of headgear that Mark Zuckerberg has been creating at Meta.

Products include the mixed reality Meta Quest Pro and Meta Quest 3, which, like the Vision Pro, are designed to be worn over your head.

There are also the less imposing Meta Ray-Ban AR glasses introduced at the company's Connect developer conference in September. These are integrated with a 12 megapixel camera and AI that allow users to engage with a "conversational assistant" by saying "Hey Meta."

The post-smartphone future is coming quickly, then, in all shapes and sizes. Your head is its target.

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