The neuroprosthetic aims to help people with dementia, strokes, concussions, brain injuries or Alzheimer’s disease. Image Source: Washington Post

Many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs share the very same vision for the future: machines and artificial intelligence doing more and people doing less. But Bryan Johnson has a unique idea that is not about software but health.

His startup, Kernel, is working on a chip that could be implanted in the human brain to help people suffering from different neurological damages.

The sci-fi-meets-science chip

The neuroprosthetic implant – as they call it- is a neural code developed to extend the life of the mind. The concept of Kernel is based on the work of Theodore Berger, a pioneering biomedical engineer who is the director of the Center for Neural Engineering at the University of Southern California and current chief science officer of the startup.

Kernel's CEO Bryan Johnson wants to help improve people's brains rather than enhancing their smartphones. Image Source: WSJ
Kernel’s CEO Bryan Johnson wants to help improve people’s brains rather than enhancing their smartphones. Image Source: WSJ

The neuroprosthetic aims to help people with dementia, strokes, concussions, brain injuries or Alzheimer’s disease. It’s worth mentioning the latter afflicts 1 out of 9 adults over 65 years old in the United States. The device tries to replicate the brain cells communicating with one another and fill the necessary codes to function like a healthy organ.

In the age of AI, Johnson feels that boosting the brain is the right business, instead of enhancing technologic devices. The health implications of Kernel are just the first step of his OS fund. Having said that, the chip is still years away from being completed.

The OS fund and the ‘bio-hack’ science

Johnson has committed more than $100 million of his personal assets in startups he calls ‘crazy projects’ through the OS fund. Aside from Kernel, such projects also include a firm that wants to fill the skies of large cities with self-flying drones, and a company joining efforts to capture an asteroid and mine it.

Jhonson is also funding Human Longevity firm, a company with the goal to sequence 100,000 human genomes a year. First full human genome sequence took a decade and $3 billion and was released in 2003.

Bryan Johnson made his money founding and selling Braintree for $800 million, an online payment provider. Venture capitalists like Johnson who invest their money for the betterment of humankind, in ways beyond software, are limited.

In the last two years, we’ve seen various firms working in “bio-hacking,” the notion that the human body can be engineered like a CPU. Startups are working on reprograming the DNA you were born; conduct cancer biopsies from samples of blood; or handsets that can send mood-altering electrical pulses to the brain.

Federal research and private funding

Government funding for Research and Development projects (R&D) has declined since the 60s, and currently, Federal funding only reaches one-third of R&D, while the private sector pays the rest.

Private business tends to emphasize on existing commercializing technologies. Even Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is accounted for as an R&D company, while it expends most their time enhancing iPhone’s commodities.

Most of the basic research that used to be conducted in large enterprises is now resident in startups that could soon be consumed by the bigger bank account looking for a profitable opportunity. And Mr. Johnson wants to make to minimize the investment risk in Kernel.

Source: Washington Post

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