Source: screenshot from neuralink.
In a live-stream broadcast via YouTube on August 28, Elon Musk demonstrated his startup Neuralink’s technology, which had been surgically implanted into the skull of a pig named Gertrude. The aim of this implant is to create a digital link between brains and computers. The demonstration showcased a computing link displaying the pig’s brain activity via a wireless link from the Neuralink.
The technology, which Musk says is close to ready for human testing, is significantly close to delivering on his promises than the 2019 debut, which showed photos of a rat with a Neuralink connected via USB. The design has changed significantly since that first unveiling; now, the implant is coin-shaped and meant to sit flush with the skull rather than having a small module resting near the ear. As of July, it has been granted approval for testing by the FDA via their Breakthrough Devices Program, which will allow the team to receive FDA feedback throughout the development process.
The Neuralink is not a first in brain-machine interfaces, but it does offer some unique features. Namely, the implant utilizes thin, flexible wires covered in electrodes to pick up brain activity. These threads have more electrodes than previous systems, and more electrodes mean more information. Additionally, the flexibility of the wires may prevent the damage that the stiff needles of other systems could cause. However, the main design challenge for any brain implant is the longevity of the device in such a corrosive environment, and smaller objects will degrade more quickly.
While this demonstration did show neural activity being broadcast wirelessly, it did not show anything more aligned with the project’s long-term ambitions. The initial focus is purely medical—helping patients deal with the brain and spinal injuries, or with congenital defects—but Musk claims his ultimate goal is achieving what he calls “AI symbiosis.” He discusses ideas like “conceptual telepathy,” in which two people could communicate electronically simply by thinking.
The first clinical trials will be in a small number of patients with severe spinal cord injuries to test the function and safety of the device. Right now, Neuralink remains on the surface of the brain where important functions like movement, vision, and hearing occur. Robotic installers designed by the development team will handle the full surgical installation process—opening the scalp, removing a portion of the skull, and inserting the hundreds of electrodes along with the computer chip, then closing the incision. The atmosphere within the startup is apparently chaotic, with a lot of turnover and former employees describing the company as “a pressure cooker.” Still, Musk aims to begin the first clinical trials in 2020.
What the whole presentation below:
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