Without even trying-how does Elon do it?

By Kostas Trakas

Last year while going through Toronto’s Founder Institute program, an old colleague asked me why I had been putting my efforts into a digital health start-up instead of just going back to a traditional corporate role in pharma. Why am I doing it? Well, the truth is that I think the fate of the human race is at stake. No really. It took us tens of thousands of years to evolve a complex nervous system capable of successfully guiding us through challenges such as predators and famines. Our aggression, our anxiety, and even our sweet-tooth have served us well for millennia. And then we started to use that growing brain of ours to develop ways of confusing or confounding our hardwired self-preservation behaviours. What does that look like today? We have increased our daily caloric intake, but decreased our daily expenditure resulting in obesity and heart disease. We have tried to dull physical pain with potent opioids producing a new demographic of heroin addicts.  Most recently, we have become glued to our screens allowing them to dictate our behaviours even our goals. Don’t worry, I’m not suggesting stuffing the smartphone genie back in it’s bottle or even taxing sugary drinks. It’s too late for either of those solutions. In fact, the problem is inside us. There is no evolutionary pressure to force our nervous system to adapt to the modern world. So, we need to build one.

A fully integrated, digital nervous system that could counterbalance our purely biological drives. The only difference is that you could program your new augmented nervous system based on your immediate need. Want to quit smoking? Done. Lose weight? Child’s-play. (Elon Musk, eat your heart out!)

And then this past week, Mr. Musk announced his new venture – Neuralink. A company dedicated to creating a direct interface between computers and the human brain. Why is he doing it? Well survival of the human race, of course. His concern is that if we cannot directly interface with the tools required to make us the cognitive equals of AIs, we will end up as their pets…or something like that.  My first thought was, “so much for Elon jealously eyeing my little start-up someday”. On the other hand, someone has to build the hardware to run our envisioned software. Go Elon!

However, we are quite a ways away from hacking our central nervous system on the scale that Neuralink is imagining. That’s why Nutu is starting with the goal of modifying health behaviours using available mobile technology. We aspire to provide individuals with the tools to make the necessary health changes today, but we will also learn how to better influence them in the future. Value for our healthcare system today. Saviours of the human race tomorrow. Baby steps.