Elon Musk has been at the helm of some of the most revolutionary companies in the world, making innovative strides in the world of technology. Tesla pushed the electric vehicle industry forward to a new era whereas SpaceX is working to put humans on the Moon, Mars and beyond. Not to mention, all of the news (read: chaos) he made by acquiring Twitter.
In the midst of all of Musk’s flashier toys lies another company that could potentially have the biggest impact on humanity as we know it. We, of course, are talking about Elon Musk’s Neuralink, a company which believes a digital solution is the need of the hour as biology isn’t doing its job properly or has reached the limits of its capability.
Neuralink, as the name suggests, is a neurotechnology company that specialises in developing a small chip meant to be implanted into the human brain. With this chip, the company claims that humans will be able to control computers and other gadgets with their minds! Sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, doesn’t it? Wait, there’s more!
If successful, this brain plant could also allow the neurally disabled to interact with the world, i.e., making it possible for people with neural damage to converse with their surroundings.
Neuralink: What does the Elon Musk-backed firm do?
Neuralink describes itself as a neurotechnology company developing a special brain interface to let humans or other biological beings interact with the digital world. While this brain interface is mostly said to benefit those who are ‘medically unfit’ and don’t have any control over their body, the company also has long-term plans of using Neuralink technology to enhance the human experience.
“In the future, we hope to restore capabilities such as vision, motor function, and speech, and eventually expand how we experience the world,” says Neuralink on its website.
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How does Elon Musk’s Neuralink work?
In order to make the brain of a living being interact with its digital interface, Neuralink needs to do a brain implant. This is a critical part of the procedure, with Neuralink taking care of the technological requirements. The implant is a small computer chip that is the size of a coin and sits inside a biocompatible enclosure with a small Li-ion battery and threads. Needless to say, the chip needs to be implanted carefully into the patient’s brain as there can be no scope for error here. Fortunately, this is where the Neuralink-developed robot arm comes in.
This robot has been developed specifically to perform the operation and successfully implant the chip in the brain. The chip features 64 threads with 1024 electrodes that study the brain’s neural signals and convert them into digital signals.
Once the system is in place, the implanted chip sends signals to a computer, thereby allowing the patient to control the computer interface through their mind.
Has Neuralink worked?
If you trust Elon Musk’s words, Neuralink has shown positive signs on test animals. In 2020, Musk said that Neuralink had successfully implanted a chip in a pig’s brain and was able to study its neural data. The system was able to accurately detect the pig’s limb position while it walked on a treadmill. It also recorded neural activity when it was exposed to food.
Musk later stated that Neuralink has also successfully tested the system on a monkey. He further added that the monkey with the implant was able to successfully play a video game.
Neuralink trials on humans: When are they happening?
Neuralink has recently got approval from the FDA in the USA to start trials on human subjects. Although details of the FDA’s approval aren’t precise, it has been confirmed that Neuralink can now take human subjects and test its revolutionary system on them.
We are excited to share that we have received the FDA’s approval to launch our first-in-human clinical study!
This is the result of incredible work by the Neuralink team in close collaboration with the FDA and represents an important first step that will one day allow our…
— Neuralink (@neuralink) May 25, 2023
What remains to be seen is the sort of test subject Neuralink employs for its first few human trials. Neuralink has emphasised the importance of receiving applications from disabled people with damaged neural abilities. Hence, someone with autism could be a part of the early tests.
A person with a Neuralink implant may eventually gain the ability to surf the internet with their mind or even control smart devices – all from their brain. When Neuralink’s technology ripens in the future, it will allow humans to exercise greater control over their digital surroundings.
Are Neuralink’s capabilities realistic?
Yes. Although Neuralink’s achievements seem to be impressive given the possibilities, the existing medical technology already allows computers to read neural signals from the brain. While medical equipment relies solely on wires and bulky elements to do so, Neuralink manages to package all that into a small chip. Hence, Professor Andrew Jackson, an expert in neural interfaces at Newcastle University, was quoted as saying “Neuralink’s engineering is solid but it is still mediocre neuroscience.”
Is a brain-implant chip a bad idea?
That depends on how humans decide to pursue it. Elon Musk talks largely of peaceful applications of the technology, which includes the ability to help people with neural disabilities and enhance the human experience. Having said that, Neuralink is just another computer with access to your brain and someone with malicious intentions could try to hack it or cause damage on another level altogether. So there are dangers to this technology.
The brain implant also has a Li-ion battery which poses a great risk of brain damage, especially if a manufacturing defect occurs (just like a faulty smartphone battery). Additionally, if the chip is implanted incorrectly, it can lead to infections in the brain which can cause further complications or even death.
Can you buy Neuralink right now?
Neuralink is currently in a testing phase with trials being conducted on animals. However, Elon Musk’s company is taking applications for patients with motor disabilities for its human trials.
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(Hero and Featured image Credits: Courtesy Neuralink)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: Neuralink is a neurotechnology company developing a brain implant interface for humans to control digital devices.
Answer: The FDA has just given Neuralink its approval for clinical human trials.
Answer: Neuralink has a large list of investors, including Tesla’s Elon Musk, Google Ventures, OpenAI’s Sam Altman and others.
Answer: Brain chips can read, stimulate or block electrical signals from a single neuron or a group of neurons in the brain.