Kernel founder and CEO Bryan Johnson wants to “expand the bounds of human intelligence” while treating neurological disorders by enhancing human brains with computer implants.
Johnson is asking some very big questions, from, “Can we ameliorate or cure neurological disease and dysfunction?” to, “Can I increase my rate of learning, scope of imagination, and ability to love?” or even, “Can I understand what it’s like to live in a 10-dimensional reality?” His hopes are similarly stellar: that within 15 years, “we can build sufficiently powerful tools to interface with our brains.”
This latest project is the result of $100 million shaved from the $800 million that Paypal offered him for his “Braintree” payment system he founded by the time he was 30-years old. Now at 40, Johnson is pursuing an “overwhelming desire to improve the lives of others” he discovered during a missions trip to Ecuador. After leaving his faith, he was confronted by “the notion that the closest I’d ever come to my previous vision of heaven is whatever we can build here on Earth while I’m alive.”
Johnson has personal experience with mental illness, having grown up with a father lost in the throes of drug addiction and a decade spent in an all-too-common war with depression:
I spent a decade being tortured in my own mind. I have witnessed and experienced what happens when a brain isn’t at its best. Being able to treat Alzheimer’s disease went from ‘that’d be nice’ to ‘really important’ after my stepfather began showing early symptoms. Helping people overcome addiction went from ‘that’d be nice’ to ‘really important’ after my father suffered from drug addiction for the first 25 years of my life.
Moreover, Johnson sees Kernel’s work as a potential equalizer: “What if everyone – not just the privileged– had the same access to information, learning, skill improvement, and cognitive evolution?” Nevertheless, Kernel is a for-profit venture. He sees this as a necessary step toward providing a “usable product” in a market that current estimates suggest will be worth almost $15 billion by 2024.
It is a lofty goal, but an objectively important one. In his own words:
The brain is everything we are, everything we do, and everything we aspire to be. It seemed obvious to me that the brain is both the most consequential variable in the world and also our biggest blind spot as a species. I decided that if the root problems of humanity begin in the human mind, let’s change our minds.
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