Neuralink is a 100-man team of researchers that are developing cutting-edge brain implants that will ultimately allow paralyzed patients to perform everyday tasks just by simply thinking about it.
The startup company is another project by Elon Musk, who continuously breaks the ceiling on how technology can be pushed farther. Now, he’s aiming to accomplish tasks such as typing on a computer, scroll through a smartphone, and even send emails through a sensor attached within a person’s brain.
“This is going to sound pretty weird, but ultimately, we will achieve symbiosis with artificial intelligence,” Musk says at a news conference Tuesday night in San Francisco. “This is not a mandatory thing. It is a thing you can choose to have if you want. This is something that I think will be really important on a civilization-level scale.”
The year is literally 2077, like Microsoft’s upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 featuring Keanu Reeves, where people can now have the option to enhance their physical capabilities technologically. However, we’re not jumping into anything too complex. The idea, for now, is to help paralyzed patients be more adept in everyday life.
Furthermore, Neuralink won’t function as instantly as one would think. “All of this will occur actually quite slowly,” Musk says. “It’s not going to be like suddenly, Neuralink will have this incredible neural lace and start taking over people’s brains. It will take a long time, and you will see it coming.”
How will Neuralink allow people to control things with their mind?
The basic idea of Neuralink is by attaching sensors within a person’s brain, where they can effectively pick up brain signals compared to non-invasive devices. The sensor will then send the message that the brain signals are trying to perform over to the desired device, and voilá, the paralyzed is now casually scrolling through his or her phone’s web pages.
Primarily, the brain sensors are equipped with 3,072 electrodes per array that constantly picks up signals in the brain’s neurons and synapses. The device is called “threads,” according to Neuralink. Furthermore, the “threads” are thinner than a human hair at only one-third of which in width and are barely perceptible with the human eye.
Significantly, “threads” is a breakthrough technology because similar devices have tried to achieve similar results. However, others are far larger compared in size and diameter—requiring more invasive procedures to implant in the brain. As a result, most of these devices are prone to causing more detrimental side effects in a person’s brain function, which made it achieve little success in the past.
Additionally, another key factor that allowed Neuralink to achieve its success is the development of their robotic arm that provides the extreme precision and care needed to implant this extremely small device.
Particularly, the robot is about the size of a barbecue grill, and it uses high-end optics to drill 8mm holes in the skull and then place the wires precisely.
The lenses and computer vision software help the robot avoid hitting blood vessels, reducing damage to the brain and formation of scar tissue. “Because these things are so thin and flexible, the idea is that they move with the tissue instead of tearing the tissue,” says Neuralink researcher Philip Sabes.
When will Neuralink be available for public use?
As of the moment, the device Neuralink has created only been found effective in mice and even primate subjects. In a research paper released on Tuesday evening, Neuralink said it has performed at least 19 surgeries on animals with its robots, and successfully placed the “threads” about 87% of the time.
In the experiment, the test rat was able to move around a large rectangular plastic cage filled with wood shavings and Parmesan cheese. “We definitely need to address the monkey in the room,” Musk says. “This is a sensitive subject. A monkey has been able to control a computer with its brain.”
Sabes says the amount of data being gathered from the rat was about ten times greater than what today’s most powerful sensors can collect.
However, Neuralink’s scientists told The New York Times in a briefing on Monday that the company still has a “long way to go” before it can get anywhere near offering commercial service, but as early as now, Neuralink is trying to secure approval from the US Food and Drug Administration in order to allow them to conduct human clinical trials as early as next year.
“We will painlessly laser-drill the holes into the skull, place the threads, plug the hole with the sensor, and then you go home,” Max Hodak, the President and co-founder of Neuralink say. “It’ll basically be an experience like getting Lasik.”
Shortly, the company is eyeing for the technology to help not only the paralyzed but also amputees by attaching the sensor receiver to prosthetics, or it could be used to treat epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and even provide “rich visual feedback to the blind.” They also went as far as to be able to insert new languages into the brain, but then again, the technology is still has a long way to go.