All you need to know about the live presentation of the brain chip with Neuralink AI that, according to Elon Musk - Neuralink AI brain chip Elon Musk development - will one day cure paralysis and allow telepathy.
Neuralink, the neurotechnology startup Musk co-founded in 2016, has been working on a "brain-machine interface" that consists of a small chip that is implanted in the skull and that can read and write brain activity.
Musk has described the chip that Neuralink presented this Friday with a live demonstration, as "a Fitbit in your skull with small cables."
The coin-sized chip connects to ultra-thin flexible cables - each about 5 microns thick, about 20 times thinner than human hair-that contain a total of 1,024 electrodes and are deployed inside the brain.
These electrodes can read or, in theory, write brain activity by detecting or stimulating neurons, all while transmitting data wirelessly over Bluetooth-like radio waves for researchers to analyze
In addition, Neuralink has developed a precision robot to surgically install the chip under the skull and carry the cables to the brain without damaging it by accidentally puncturing the blood vessels, a procedure Musk claims only takes hours and leaves nothing but a small scar.
Neuralink AI brain chip Elon Musk development
It is not surprising that Musk has made some crazy claims about the potential of this technology.
According to his predictions, he would be able to create a "symbiosis" between the human mind and computers; "shed some light on consciousness"; allow people to "save and reproduce memories"; cure paralysis, blindness, memory loss and other neurological diseases; allow "superhuman vision", or give people the ability to activate their Tesla telepathically.
"Yes, this sounds more and more like an episode of Black Mirror," Musk acknowledged during the presentation this Friday.
Although neurologists claim that Neuralink seems far from fulfilling some of Musk's most ambitious promises, they are optimistic that brain-machine interfaces could, in the not too distant future, be used to treat some neurological problems such as spinal cord injuries, Parkinson's or to control prosthetics.
"The diseases in which we understand the [neurological] circuit and what exactly that circuit is doing are potential applications," Dr. Jason Shepherd, associate professor of neurobiology at the University of Utah, USA, told Business Insider.
But other neurodegenerative disorders, such as dementia, are more difficult to address, he explains, because "there is complex behavior, there is complex learning and memory or aspects that are not regulated by a single area of the brain."
Neuralink presented to viewers, with a bizarre and slightly dystopian demonstration, how its chip is used to analyze the brain activity of pigs. These are usually subject to similar experiments since their brains resemble the anatomy of human brains.
This time, the experiment has involved several pigs: "Joyce", who has not implanted the chip, "Dorothy", who was implanted, but are removed after (what Musk noted as a milestone which demonstrated that they could remove it if cambiabas of opinion or wanted to "upgrade"); "Gertrude", which has had the chip for 2 months; and various other chips "dual" implanted.
Attendees could see and hear "live signals" from Gertrude's Neuralink, which was configured to detect "spikes" of neuronal activity in her snout, so that the screen lit up and sounds were heard as she smelled food around her pen.
In addition, Musk projected a video of one of the pigs on a treadmill, in which the company was trying to predict the position of the pig's limbs by detecting its brain activity, which, according to the CEO, they achieved almost perfectly.
Obviously, working with pigs is still a big step away from human subjects, both in terms of technical barriers and regulatory approval.
In this regard, Musk says Neuralink has the approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an "innovation device," which can help accelerate research and development of new medical technologies.
And finally, the team has also provided limited technical details on the materials used in the chip and cables, as well as the speed and resolution at which the chip can read and write data.
Not really, at least as far as what people could deduce just by looking at the demonstration.
However, scientists and engineers would love to see Neuralink publish more research on its chip, materials science and algorithms to support some of the expectation Musk has generated.
"All the technology he showed has already been developed one way or another," said Shepherd. "Basically, what they've done is package it in a nice little format that then sends data wirelessly."
Neuralink's work is based on the work that neurologists and bioengineers have been doing for decades, and that, in recent years, have become great advances like robotic arms controlled by the mind.
"If you just saw this presentation, you might think it comes out of nowhere, that Musk is doing his magic, but in reality, he's copied and pasted the work of many, many labs that have been working on this," Shepherd says.
Still, Musk's enthusiasm for the topic and his deep pockets will likely generate additional interest, both from investors and the public, which could be an advantage for other neuroscience work, he adds.
In fact, scientists have previously been impressed by some of Neuralink's advances, particularly the "sewing machine" he developed to insert ultrathin wires into the brain.
"Doing these things by hand, they are very fine things... it's very difficult to have a strong enough hand to get it," Andrew Hires, assistant professor of neurobiology at the University of California, USA, told Business Insider in July 2019, following the publication of Neuralink's new research and the claim that he had gotten a monkey to control a computer.
Depending on what they want to use the technology for, researchers and technology companies working on brain chips still face a number of challenges.
One of the greatest is the development of materials that can be safely inserted into a human brain, for long periods of time, without deteriorating or causing infections.
Others include making chips that can read data fast enough, and at a resolution high enough to be useful, designing algorithms that can interpret data accurately, and a way to insert cables deeper into the brain so the chip can access more of its activity.
There are also important security, privacy, political, legal and ethical issues that will surely arise.
Evidently, implanting a chip in someone's head that reads their raw brain data - and allows them to control their physical movements, sight, smell, or hearing through a mobile app, which Musk says Neuralink is chasing-could go awry.
"Many of these companies are stuck between the development stage and the implementation stage," says Shepherd. "And from my point of view, the stage of development of this is, I think, very premature, there is still a lot of work to be done."
Neuralink could also face some of its own unique challenges. In fact, STAT News reported earlier this week that several former Neuralink investigators expressed concern about a chaotic culture within the company, which collides between strict deadlines and the typical slow pace of scientific research.
And, according to STAT, the startup is using the technological approach of "moving fast and breaking things" to build a medical device, which sometimes makes " the strategy very immature."
Neuralink AI brain chip Elon Musk development