What Does Neuralink Mean for Intellectual Property? Let’s Get This Issue Handled, Then Go Create

Kwame Som-Pimpong
Written by Kwame Som-Pimpong
Elon Musk Neuralink presentation. YouTube

Black people will create the dopest use cases for connecting our brains to computers. The track record speaks for itself as you look at some of the most important inflection points at the intersection of new technology and wide-scale adoption.

There are countless examples of Black folks impacting culture on a global scale. There are just as many examples of us not realizing the monetary gains from those innovations. Will that pattern repeat itself when Elon Musk figures out how to merge our brains with artificial intelligence?

Introducing Neuralink

Elon Musk founded Neuralink back in 2016 as part of addressing his concerns with the rise of artificial intelligence. He believes that the rise of artificial intelligence presents a real danger to humans and can result in anything from a benign sentient technology that is way smarter than humans to something more akin to a demon. In his view, creating technology that enables humans to connect with artificial intelligence gives us a fighting chance to keep up and stay alive.

Last week, Neuralink held a recruiting event where it highlighted the progress it has made developing a chip that can be implanted in our skulls and connected to our brains. I highly recommend watching the presentation

The technology the Neuralink team is developing is mind-boggling. So far, the company has raised $158 million with Musk providing $100 million of that. Clearly, the government was pinching pennies on developing the “Six Million Dollar Man”.

How does the technology work? Essentially, there is a chip much like what goes into a computer but tailored to be compatible with our bodies and durable enough to last decades. Attached to the chip are 10,000 nearly invisible-to-the-eye electrodes that a custom-built robot would implant in our brains connecting them to electrodes in our cortex.

The chip would be able to read and write content to and from our brains. Let me repeat that another way. The chip would be able to read our thoughts and give our brains instruction on new things to learn.

IP questions for days

Why does the chip’s reading and writing ability need repeating? Intellectual property has been a long conversation in the Black community. The history of others getting rich off of Black genius is long. This challenge has been for ideas that Black folks have expressed in real life. What do we do when our thoughts are accessible?

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 12: Keenan Beasley

Jamarlin talks to Keenan Beasley, co-founder and managing partner of New York digital analytics company BLKBOX. The Westpoint grad and former P&G brand manager talks about his early mistakes, how NY and Silicon Valley investors differ, and the advantages of getting experience in an industry before trying to disrupt it.

As the day draws nearer when Neuralink actually puts the chip in a person’s brain, questions around intellectual property will only increase in their importance. The closest the company got to addressing this was Musk quickly shooting down the idea that the company would make money selling advertising. Two cases do come to mind that show the problems intellectual property can present for end-users of products.

What do I own?

Monsanto, recently acquired by Bayer, was in litigation for years with farmers, seed companies, and other agriculture businesses over the patents it has secured for seeds it develops. The company had successfully gone after multiple farmers for using seeds without paying royalties when in reality Monsanto seeds had infiltrated fields not using the company’s products.

Separately, states across the country are considering Right to Repair bills that allow people to repair their devices without companies like Apple and John Deere preventing them. John Deere’s tractors aren’t like the models some of you asked your mom for from the local toy store. These are highly specialized pieces of equipment with complex software running them. John Deere holds that it owns this software, not farmers, and has installed locks that force farmers to take their equipment to authorized John Deere mechanics to have the issue fixed.

Another example of why this is so important is Kanye West’s dispute with record labels Roc-A-Fella Records and Def Jam, and publishing company EMI. West is trying to get out of a contract he signed in 2003 that essentially requires him to always be producing music. EMI argues that West should be producing music for them through 2035. Thirty-two years is way too long to not own your ideas.

Opportunity in the gray area?

Black creatives, lawyers, entrepreneurs, inventors and more have an opportunity to think through the IP question and get in front of shaping the direction of this next phase of brain-machine interface technology. For example, Angela Benton’s new company, Streamlytics, could play an important role in parsing out the users’ thoughts from the information the Neuralink chip inputs.

Looking further into the future, imagine a platform that tips Neuralink users who are thinking about the same idea so they can work together to bring that idea to life. No more hiding behind “I had that idea!” Those are just a couple use cases off the top of my head.

Let’s get this IP issue handled, then go create!