Another day, another step forward into the future.
Yes, Elon Musk is at it again. And this time, he’s looking to achieve “symbiosis with artificial intelligence.” Neuralink is the futurist’s latest company looking to make waves, and this time it’ll be by diving into the neurotechnology industry.
For a quick recap, Neuralink is developing ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces (BMI) to connect humans and computers. They are doing this by removing a piece of skull and inserting wires thinner than a human hair and covering it with an accompanying device.
In the most recent demo, Neuralink unveiled the latest hardware model, Link V0.9. The size of the device no larger than a coin, as seen below.
In an exploded view, one can see the intricate design of the chip and sensors along with the micro-sized electrodes.
The goal for the design of the Link is to be flush with the skull (essentially replacing the chunk of skull removed) and unnoticeable aside from a small scar which can be covered up by the hair.
The Link will be just like any other daily device that runs on a battery; similar to a smartphone. After a day worth of use, one can simply charge the device inductively, as seen below:
As mentioned before, the Link will be installed via a surgical process where a chunk of the skull will be removed and replaced by the Link device.
The surgical process is done entirely by a robot that will pinpoint which neurons to target and automatically place the less-than-hair-thin electrodes. The images below simply shows what the installation and surgical process entails:
The main focus of this demo was to recruit talent to work with the Neuralink team.
They are looking to rapidly expand and are looking for roles in mechanical, electrical, and software engineering, animal care, surgeons, and product development just to name a few openings.
The most important goals for Neuralink are to solve important brain and spine problems such as:
During the live presentation, the Neuralink team demonstrated the product using three different pigs; also known as the “Three Little Pigs.”
One pig was the control where it did not have the Link implanted. The second pig, named Gertrude, had the Link implanted. The third pig, named Dorothy had the Link removed to show that the implementation of the Link can also be reversible should a patient decide to remove it.
The spotlight, was Gertrude for the demo as she was shy to come out, but eventually did. The Neuralink team showed a visual of how the Link was reading spikes (or action potential) in the brain.
This is significant because it showed that the device actually works in real-time on a living specimen. The next step is to start human trials which will start soon as Neuralink has secured a Breakthrough Device designation from the FDA.
The Link can not only read spikes but can write them as well. This means that the Link can write brain activity through firing electrodes in the brain and influencing a number of neurons. Controlling the electric field is the name of the game.
After the presentation of the new Link V0.9, The Neuralink Team took to Twitter to answer some thought-provoking questions. Some of the highlighted answers include:
Summoning a Tesla telepathically
Parapalegic people will eventually be able to play games, such as StarCraft, via the Link
Accessing lost memories, saving them, and reliving them.
The Link has a high-security protocol to prevent any intrusions.
The Link’s hardware and software are upgradeable
Now while all of these answers point towards the far future, the most immediate progressions include fully automating the robotic surgery process and evolving the electrodes to be thinner, longer, and more durable as it will exist in a corrosive environment, the brain.
This device definitely brings the onset of shows such as Black Mirror and Altered Carbon closer to reality. But civilization is still a long way away from that moment.
Until then, it’s best to enjoy being an imperfect being in an imperfect world.