Like many in Silicon Valley, technology entrepreneur Bryan Johnson sees a future in which intelligent machines can do things like drive cars on their own and anticipate our needs before we ask.
What’s uncommon is how Johnson wants to respond: find a way to supercharge the human brain so that we can keep up with the machines.
From an unassuming office in Venice Beach, his science-fiction-meets-science start-up, Kernel, is building a tiny chip that can be implanted in the brain to help people suffering from neurological damage caused by strokes, Alzheimer’s or concussions. The team of top neuroscientists building the chip — they call it a neuroprosthetic — hope that in the longer term, it will be able to boost intelligence, memory and other cognitive tasks.
The medical device is years in the making, Johnson acknowledges, but he can afford the time. He sold his payments company, Braintree, to PayPal for $800 million in 2013. A former Mormon raised in Utah, the 38-year-old speaks about the project with missionary-like intensity and focus.
“Human intelligence is landlocked in relationship to artificial intelligence — and the landlock is the degeneration of the body and the brain,” he said in an interview about the company, which he had not discussed publicly before. “This is a question of keeping humans front and center as we progress.”