Elon Musk’s NeuraLink: What is it and how is it going to help humans?
NeuraLink, the startup founded by Elon Musk, announced its chip that gives a glimpse into the future of the brain-computer interface.
What is NeuraLink?
NeuraLink is a startup founded by Elon Musk in 2017. The company has successfully tested a data transmission system from the brain to computers. According to the company, this brain-computer interface helps put high-speed computing systems inside a brain. This technique causes less damage as compared to other devices that are available in the market currently.
NeuraLink has been kept a secret since its launch and this is the first time the world has been allowed a peek inside.
Elon Musk said, “We definitely need to address the monkey in the room”. He added, “This is a sensitive subject. A monkey has been able to control a computer with its brain.”
What has NeuraLink developed?
The company has developed a custom chip that is capable of reading, cleaning up, and amplifying signals from the brain.
How is it going to work?
The company will install electrodes in the brain by making four drills of 8mm each into skulls. It will surgically implant tiny electrodes in the brain using a robot. But it is not expected to be painful and “will basically be an experience like getting Lasik.”
The robot that will install the electrodes is about the size of a barbecue grill. It uses high-end optics to peer into holes and place wires connected with the chip in the brain. These also help the robot in avoiding blood vessels, thereby causing less damage to the brain and minimising the formation of scar tissue.
These wires contain thousands of electrodes and are one-quarter the width of a human hair. They are placed near the neurons and synapses - the part of the brain responsible for sending and receiving information.
These electrodes are responsible for recording the activity of the brain and sending it to the chip. The chip connected to a smartphone or computer collects the information and shares it with these devices.
According to Neuralink, the design and composition of the electrodes are sturdy enough to pass through brain tissues.
The chip has been tested on mice and monkeys. The company has performed at least 19 surgeries of placing wires also called 'threads' in animals using the robot. In these attempts, it has been successful 87% of the time.
According to NeuraLink President Max Hodak, the company plans to move its clinical trials from animals to humans as early as next year. But, before that NeuraLink has to seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to make sure that the process is safe enough to start trials on humans.
Currently, the chip installed can transmit data via a wired connection (USB Type C), so, the next goal is to create a wireless system. The company also plans to make this chip accessible to smartphone i.e an app that can help control the chip with the help of your smartphone.
How is this technology going to help humans?
According to the president, humans in the future will be able to download new languages into their brains. They will also be able to digitally exchange/share thoughts with other people. If someone is suffering from a disease that makes it difficult to speak, the device will be able to track and share the patient’s thoughts. He said that the first goal is to help patients with paralysis type 40 words per minute.
Elon Musk said, “This is not a mandatory thing. It is a thing you can choose to have if you want. This is something that I think will be really important on a civilization-level scale.”
But, before we get excited, there are sides to the technology we are still unaware of. Bringing thoughts into computers and tracking the human mind comes with a lot of hidden ethical issues. Are we ready to deal with its implications before it gets too late?