On August 28th, 2020, at a Livestream Elon Musk updated all of us on his company Neuralink progress toward making a brain-machine interface. So what has changed in the time since we were first familiarised with Neuralink over a year back.
And where does the company see themselves going from here?
A brain-machine interface or BMI is just what it sounds like, a machine that can interface with a brain. BMIs have potential uses helping the crippled move mechanical appendages or in any event, helping healthy individuals use PCs and gadgets in fresher and quicker manners.
There are a couple of ways to deal with making a BMI.
Neuralink’s uses terminals on strands only a couple of micrometres thick that are strung in the middle of neurons to peruse their movement.
Neuralink’s latest BMI still relies on those threads but otherwise looks radically different from how it first appeared.
The rats that sported earlier iterations had a USB-C port sticking out of their heads that sent information gathered by electrodes to outside devices.
completely implanted chips
Eventually, the goal was to have completely implanted chips communicating wirelessly with an outside device sitting behind the ear. The latest device is much more simplified. Dubbed Link V0.9, it measures 23 mm by 8 mm, about the size of a chunky coin. Rather than residing entirely in the skull, Link V0.9 actually replaces a piece of it.
The only evidence that a person is now a cyborg is a tiny scar which can be hidden by hair.
Each link has 1024 channels to monitor neural activity and compresses.It sends data to a device like a phone at a rate of megabits per second.
Though the Neuralink researchers aren’t too concerned about replacing bits of the skull with their devices.
Experiment on a pig
They say that since bone’s properties are well understood it’s not hard to design something that can withstand whatever situations a normal skull might see.
To demonstrate their latest prototype worked and was robust enough to handle a rough-and-tumble lifestyle.
Neuralink introduced a pig named Gertrude. Gertrude had a Link V0.9 installed two months prior, and her device monitored neurons that represented her snout.
Whenever Gertrude sniffed food or a handler touched her snout, a screen showed activity in her brain spiking, while making little beeps and boops.
Neuralink started testing with pigs because of their similar skull thickness and membrane makeup to humans.
paraplegic and tetraplegic people
This allows the researchers to read neurons dealing with moving joints. Based on the readings, they could predict accurately where the joints would move. Technology like that could be huge for paraplegic and tetraplegic people.
Musk reasons that because people who are paralyzed due to a spine injury have effectively had the connection between their brain and their limbs severed.
Their device could help people walk again by decoding movement impulses and transmitting them to the other side of the break.
While miraculously making people walk again is an incredible goal, Neuralink’s aims go far beyond that.
FDA has granted Neuralink
Those are pretty lofty ambitions and there are a lot of hurdles to clear between here and the future Musk pictures.
The device needs to be tested in humans, though the FDA has granted Neuralink breakthrough device designation, moving them closer to human trials.
The machine that weaves the threads into the brain looks sleeker and more medical than it did last year.
And then there’s the barrier that is our own understanding of how the human brain works.
Ironically the researchers at Neuralink suggested their device, that can actually be inside the brain and monitoring activity.
Could be just the thing that pushes our understanding of the human brain to new heights. While some expected more from this presentation, it’s still progress.
Based on what Neuralink has achieved with about 100 employees,.
it’ll be interesting to see where technology is another year from now as the company grows. The Link V0.9 uses a battery that Musk claims will last all day and can be charged wirelessly overnight.
How wireless charging on something embedded in your skull will work.
I’m not exactly sure, but I like to picture Neuralink will develop some kind of pillow too.which will bring new meaning to the term “power nap”.
So is this something you’d stay away from or would you sign up to be one of the first transhumanist cyborgs? Let us know in the comments, don’t forget to share, and I’ll see you next time on YourTechDose.