Elon Musk’s Neuralink: A Fitbit for the brain

Published by FirstAlign

On 29th August 2020, Elon Musk demonstrated Neuralink’s implant device to the world. Elon Musk founded Neuralink in 2016. A neurotechnology company that focuses on developing technology that can merge with the human brain. According to Musk, Neuralink hopes to “achieve a sort of symbiosis with Artificial Intelligence.”

Neuralink

The event had Musk demonstrating the device with three live pigs. One of the pigs, named Gertrude had the implant in his brain. A screen streamed electrical brain activity registered by the device. Neuralink built a neural implant that can wirelessly transmit detailed brain activity. It can transmit data without the aid of external hardware. He said, “it’s like a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires.”

This demonstration was one step closer to delivering on Musk’s ambition. It is far from reality, but it has got our hopes soaring. The US Food and Drug Administration has approved “breakthrough device” testing.

What is a Neuralink Implant?

A Neuralink implant consists of a small device with electrodes that could be implanted in the brain. Brain surgery is required for the implant. A neurosurgical robot operated by a surgeon implants the device. The robot drills 2mm holes into the patient’s skull where the implant is inserted.

Musk’s goal is to build a neural implant that can connect the human brain with Artificial Intelligence (AI). A link that would enable humans to control computers, prosthetic limbs, and other machines using only thoughts. It’s a brain-computer interface that can read and write from millions of neurons in the brain. It translates human thoughts into computer code and vice versa. All this on a small, wireless battery-powered implant that is hidden from the eye. This would be a great advance if Neuralink’s device promises to transmit data safely over the long term.

A Fitbit for the brain

Neuralink has a medical focus. Its first applications are targeted at people with spinal cord injuries, conditions like paraplegia or tetraplegia. Musk said “If you can sense what people want to do with their limbs, you can do a second implant where the spinal injury occurred and create a neural shunt. I’m confident in the long term it’ll be possible to restore somebody’s full-body motion.”

It also hopes to treat other medical conditions such as visual prosthesis, paralysis, and brain damage. Elon Musk wants to take Neuralink further than only treat health conditions. He sees the technology as an opportunity to build a variety of brain-computer interfaces for consumers. He thinks this would help humans keep pace with increasing powerful AI.

The challenges ahead

Initially, Neuralink tested a wired version of its implants on rats. The latest version of tests on pigs is an impressive progression of the technology. The application on humans still poses numerous challenges.

One of the major concerns is the security and privacy of data. Who has access to the data? How much control do we have over data transmitted? Then there are larger health concerns. Can the device transmit data without any tissue damage in humans? What if there are some defects with the implanted devices?

Neuralink’s ambitions are futuristic for many. But If Artificial Intelligence can restore a man’s lost movements isn’t that a technology to embrace?

 References

Published by FirstAlign

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