And why does he say such stupid things?
To answer the first question: he’s a guy with a bachelor’s degree in engineering who developed some software to help colleges find “identify the next generation of high performers” which got bought up by some bigger company, making him relatively rich. Then he hooked up with Elon Musk (Warning! Danger!) to move to Silicon Valley and run Neuralink, despite having no qualifications in biology or neuroscience. He’s a wealthy techbro who has been promoted way above what his competence and experience should allow.
Wait, I think I just answered my second question, too.
New question: why does anyone pay any attention to him? Like me right now for instance?
Because he’s one of the new generation of hucksters whose sole claim to fame is grossly exaggerated promises, and also it helps that he’s associated himself with the crown prince of hucksterdom, Elon Musk. That gets him write-ups in the press, and then we all have to rebut his nonsense, which makes him more of a sensation, which leads to more press, where he gets to spew more nonsense. I don’t know how to get out of this cycle.
I don’t think Twitter helps, either. It enables these bozos to make quick blipverts to promote their idiocy even more. Hodak’s latest was to make this claim:
The co-founder of Elon Musk’s company Neuralink tweeted on Saturday that the startup has the technological advances and savvy to create its own “Jurassic Park.”
“We could probably build Jurassic Park if we wanted to,” Max Hodak tweeted Saturday. “Wouldn’t be genetically authentic dinosaurs but [shrugging emoji]. maybe 15 years of breeding + engineering to get super exotic novel species.”
Pure clickbaity bullshit. No they couldn’t, nor would anyone want them to. Hodak doesn’t even have the expertise to make such a claim, but that’s not going to stop a huckster!
We’re not even close to achieving such a thing, and Musk’s or Hodak’s company doesn’t have the tools to even start. It’s complete, arrogant hype.
Let’s break it down into a simpler problem. Let’s say tigers go extinct (unfortunately, it could happen in our lifetime). Super-rich uber-capitalist gets the fever and decides he’s going to reconstruct the species using “breeding + engineering” to modify house cats, and he gives himself 15 years to do it before his attention span flits off to something equally silly. Can they do it?
No. Maybe someday, but not in 15 years, and that’s a case where we have complete genomic information. Just to mention one obstacle, tigers have a generation time of 8 years. Even assuming the first couple of generations have breeding times of a year, like a housecat, that gives you virtually no time to work out the bugs in your production model. But worse, we don’t have any idea what all the genes that differentiate a housecat from a tiger are! We’re going to need a few decades of work to figure that out, which admittedly, would be an interesting research program, but doing it with the goal of making a tiger would be unproductive, especially given that we don’t seem to be able to keep the existing tiger population alive.
And that’s the easy problem, compared to resurrecting dinosaurs. The only templates we have for the dinosaur genome have been extensively modified by over 70 million years of drift and selection, and we don’t know what genes were lost or gained, or what their role in the complex outcome of “dinosaur” might be. It would be lovely to find out, but it’s not the accomplished fact Hodak thinks it is.
Also, “Jurassic Park” is fiction, based on a bad novel written by a hack writer of thrillers. I read it when it first came out, as an undergrad who was waffling between an oceanography and biology major, and it’s one of the first novels I recall ripping up and throwing in the trash because the science was so bad. It’s kind of a shame that it got rescued by CGI and movies.
As for the Neuralink connection, which I’ve written about a couple of times, that’s also bad science. The plan is to build a brain-machine interface, so you can just think at a computer and have your brilliance manifest in code, or control a fighter plane even faster. Here, though, is their great accomplishment:
Launched in 2017, Neuralink works on creating brain-computer interfaces with the hopes to one day help those afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, paralysis and spinal cord injuries, among others.
In August 2020, Musk debuted Gertrude, a pig that Neuralink had implanted a small computer chip in its brain. The chip was planted near the part of the brain that controls its snout, so as Gertrude ate, a computer showed waves and spikes being emitted from the chip, monitoring Gertrude’s neural response.
Uh, right. My first year in grad school we repeated a classic experiment, placing hook electrodes on a cricket’s cercal nerve, and recording the pattern of “waves and spikes” as the insect processed sensory information. It was cool — you could see differences when you touched or moved the cerci, or with blowing on them from different directions, and this is just more of the same, only they’ve got it on a chip rather than the boxy little pre-amps and clumsy oscilloscopes we used. Congratulations. They’re catching up with JZ Young, who was doing recordings of neural activity 70 years ago.
One other difference: Young and that generation of neurophysiologists were working on organisms acutely — the animals were dead after the experiment was over. Are you willing to have a chip inserted in your motor cortex so you can play video games better?
The most biting sentence in the article is this one.
Hodak didn’t further explain what technology Neuralink could use to engineer the long-extinct dinosaurs.
Exactly. Hodak is talking out of ignorance, nothing more. Don’t listen to him.