Elon Musk’s brain-computer interface start-up Neuralink has made great progress, and its non-invasive devices are expected to be tested on humans this year. Musk’s ultimate goal, however, is to download the human brain to a computer, to integrate the brain, and to usher in a new era of “superhuman cognition.”
Figure 1: Brain interface technology and implants developed by Musk’s start-up Neuralink
Neuralink, a start-up founded by Musk in 2016, is exploring the human brain and how to connect it to a computer interface. The concept is designed to use brain-computer interface technology to surgically implant a processor into the brain, combining the human brain with AI, a process that is said to be no more complicated than myopia surgery.
The brain-computer interface is not a new concept, but it has the potential to help millions of people. As Neuralink puts it in his published paper: “The brain-computer interface provides hope for the recovery of sensory and motor function and the treatment of neurological disorders.” However, humans want to connect their brains to computers, including by dealing with a potential existential threat, AI.
Experts, business leaders and researchers around the world believe that AI has the power to make the world a better place, affecting almost every industry in the world. However, many, including Musk, believe that if we don’t act with caution, AI could become the kind of existential threat described in science fiction.
In short, Neuralink will provide an upgrade for the human brain, which may make us more competitive in the face of AI with human levels or higher intelligence.
Assumptions for the coming future
Let’s imagine the next five years from now: you might be sitting in a house packed with smart home ware, watching the latest hot shows while working comfortably from home. When you feel tired of drinking coffee, you don’t even need to get up, just move your mind, you can notify the smart coffee machine to make coffee, you can also let the smart speaker play music or turn off the TV by thinking, no longer need to use the remote control.
Neuralink can lead us into a future like this. However, its brain-computer interface technology not only controls smart home appliances and streaming services, but also helps people with reduced mobility take better control of their lives, allowing them to communicate with friends and family in a more dynamic way, or complete everyday tasks that are almost impossible for ordinary people to complete. Paralyzed people will also be able to control smart devices and computers.
To give humans these “superpowers,” Musk’s Neuralink will install special gadgets in the human brain, creating a “direct cortical interface” to upload and download ideas. Musk’s team has not revealed much detail about the project since the company was founded in 2016. In 2019, however, Musk shared how his team plans to make that vision a reality, and that the future is much closer than we thought.
How do I implant a Neuralink device?
Figure 2: Neuralink’s tiny chip N1
Musk’s team has developed a device made up of a tiny chip called N1, which consists of more than 3,000 electrodes. The electrodes are connected to a flexible line that is thinner than human hair and can monitor the activity of 1,000 neurons.
Neuralink devices can target very specific areas of the brain. This, in turn, makes implantation of the device safer in surgery. What’s more, Neuralink has declared that patients can implant up to 10 N1 chips at any given time. So, how exactly was the device implanted? Musk has repeatedly said the process is actually painless and no different from undergoing LASEK myopia surgery.
Figure 3: Neuralink wearable devices
The Neuralink device will use traditional neurosurgery methods to implant safely and seamlessly with the help of neurosurgical robots. As Neuralink puts it in his paper: “We also built a neurosurgery robot that can insert six wires (192 electrodes) per minute.” Each line can be inserted into the brain individually with micron precision to avoid surface angiogenesis and specific brain regions. “
Did Neuralink start technical testing?
The Neuralink team has begun experimenting with various versions of the device in mice and monkeys, with impressive results. In a speech in San Francisco, Musk and his team described the ability of monkeys to control computers with their brains. However, they have not yet done any tests on humans. However, the team hopes to get FDA approval as early as this year and begin human trials.
In his speech, Musk reiterated the view that Neuralink’s devices will be an important part of our future, ultimately allowing us to symbiosis with AI. “With a high-bandwidth brain interface, we can choose to merge with AI as we please,” Musk said. As for the risk of achieving this ultimate goal, Musk assured the audience that the device would be safe.
Is the brain-machine interface technically secure?
Figure 4: Neuralink implanted with a chip for neurosurgery robots
What’s more, brain-computer interface technology is not entirely new and is being used to help people with reduced mobility. However, the technology is still in an infinite stage of development, highly intrusive, and not very scalable. That’s why Neuralink is so special. The N1 Bandwith system is expected to be a non-intrusive, more secure system that may be more easily integrated into our lives.
However, if Neuralink is to achieve this goal, they still have a number of technical and ethical challenges to overcome. Will anyone get black into these devices in the future? How do we handle all collected patient data? Kritika D’Silva, a researcher at AI at frontier development labs, said: “The technology described by NeuraLink is exciting because it is much less invasive than previous technologies. “
Figure 5: Neuralink has done technical validation on mice
According to Max Hodak, neuralink’s chief executive, the first people to be able to test Neurolink devices will be patients with quadriplegic paralysis due to spinal cord injuries. Neauralink can help people with neurological disorders that stem from the inability of the brain to connect with nerves around the body. Musk paints a picture of the technology that is common, ushering in a new era of integration with technology that competes with AI.
“In theory, with this innovative technology, paralysed people will be able to regain their mobility,” said Oleksii Kharkovyna, a data scientist. In addition, Neuralink can help people with Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and depression by quickly sending electrical impulses to areas of the brain that cause specific symptoms. I think it could be very useful and probably represent a huge technological advance. “