With companies like Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity, and Boring company Elon Musk have completely revolutionized many industries and this man is now ready with its new startup Neuralink that aims to directly link human brain and computers.
This week through internet live stream Musk presents Neuralink first public presentation. This three-hour-long event doesn’t talk much in detail about how the Neuralink works behind the screen, it was pretty much a marketing move for grabbing peoples attention.
Now let’s talk about Neuralink and what it do? Elon Musk started Neuralink in 2016. The companies prime goal is to develop a system that can be implanted in paralyzed humans, allowing them to control phones or computers through the brain directly.
The good news is that this system is working. The company has already achieved success in implanting this kind of chips in rats and plans and the company hopes to start testing the technology on humans in 2020.
“A monkey has been able to control a computer with his brain,” Musk said at a San Francisco.
With Neuralink’s approach, a robot will insert six threads (192 electrodes) per minute automatically in the brain. These treads will be about 4 to 6 μm in width, thin as a quarter the width of a human hair.
“The threads are about the same size as a neuron,” Musk said. “If you’re going to stick something in your brain, you want it to be tiny approximately on par with the things that are already there.
These threads are less likely to damage the brain than the materials currently used in brain-machine interfaces. According to Neuralink’s these threads will be those paths through which transferring of the higher volume of data will occurs.
These threads around 1,024 will attach to a small chip, up to 10 of which will be embedded under the human skin. Each will connect wirelessly to a wearable, detachable, upgradable pod behind the ear that communicates wirelessly with a phone.
“The interface to the chip is wireless so you have no wires poking out of your head. It basically Bluetooths to your phone,” Musk said.
The custom chip developed by Neuralink will read, clean up, and amplify signals from the brain to computers, but right now, it can only transmit data via a wired connection (it uses USB-C), but ultimately the goal is to create a system that can work wirelessly.
This wireless communication will get possible through N1 sensor. This sensor has been designed to be embedded inside a human body and transmit its data wirelessly. It may read fewer neurons than the current USB-based prototype.
Neuralink intends to implant four of these sensors, three in motor areas and one in a somatosensory area. It will connect wirelessly to an external device mounted behind the ear, which will contain the only battery. “It will be controlled through an iPhone app,” Hodak said.
“You need to not change your batteries out every two hours,” says Andrew Hires, an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California.
The installation of this system will also be pretty challenging, it will get installed through a holes 2mm wide, temporarily expanded to 8mm, then glued shut.
Matthew MacDougall, head surgeon at Neuralink, said on Tuesday that safety is a primary goal and that ultimately they want it to be “something more like Lasik” eye surgery, including eliminating the need for general anesthesia.
The biggest challenge for Neuralink is to develop electrodes that can last for decades because the human brain is not hospitable for such kind of environment.
Neuralink is designing its electrodes not just to “read” from neurons what’s going on in the brain, but also to “write” signals into the brain. “You can use this technology in the brain to restore a sense of touch or vision,” said Neuralink scientist Philip Sabes.
According to Jacob Robinson, a professor at Rice University, Musk himself said the problem is “definitely not solved.” Robinson said that it’s hard to speed up testing in animals of how long different electrode materials perform.
Neuralink hopes its procedure will be safe and easy enough that people will choose to undergo it. “This should be safe enough that it can be an elective procedure,” said company neurosurgeon Matthew MacDougall.
In tests so far, “we’ve been able to rapidly place thousands of electrodes into the brain without any bleeding,” MacDougall said. That’s because the electrodes are small far smaller than the deep-brain stimulation electrodes that currently come with about a 1-in-100 risk of causing bleeding in the brain, he said.
It’s not going to be suddenly Neuralink will have this neural lace and start taking over people’s brains,” Musk said. “Ultimately” he wants “to achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence.” And that even in a “benign scenario,” humans would be “left behind.”
Hence, he wants to create technology that allows a “merging with AI.” He later added “we are a brain in a vat, and that vat is our skull,” and so the goal is to read neural spikes from that brain.
Currently, the company is still working in rats to make sure the platform is stable. Max Hodak, said the company wants to try out the interface on five paralyzed people to help them move a cursor or type on a computer with their thoughts.
In a way, it’s the easiest thing they could have chosen: a number of similar experiments have been carried out since the 2000s, in which people have moved robots or operated computers. But there is room for improvement, especially if Neuralink can transmit sensation data back into the brain. It’s hard to use a grasping robot you can’t feel.
If you are interested in reading Neuralink paper here it is.
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