Thanks to a live demonstration on Friday, we finally got a look at the current status of Elon Musk's Neuralink project. The demo showed a new look to the device, a glimpse of the robot that would install it in a person's brain, and a pig with stage fright.
What is the Neuralink? What is it doing
As Musk explained, many neurological problems that people experience – like memory loss, depression, blindness, and seizures, to name a few – are the result of electrical signals in the brain that are not properly triggered. The Neuralink is an implant that connects directly to a person's brain, reading signals from the brain and even altering them to correct problems.
It's essentially a "Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires," Musk explained.
The original concept for the Neuralink was a chip behind the ear with threads extending into the skull. The design has changed significantly and the device now resembles a small coin.
According to Musk, when installing a Neuralink, they remove a small piece of your skull and insert the Neuralink so that it is flush with the skull (no electronics sticking out). Electrical threads, about 1/20 the thickness of the hair, extend into the brain, where they can pick up or manipulate electrical signals.
Brain surgery may be uncomfortable for many potential Neuralink users, but the company not only builds the chip, they also build a robot to install it. The robot will ideally handle the toughest aspects of the operation, which Neuralink hopes will take less than an hour and be performed without general anesthesia.
The device has an all-day battery life and can be charged without cables.
Three little pigs show that it can be removed
While the device is not yet ready for test subjects, the company has experimented on animals and used some to demonstrate the safety of the implant.
The Neuralink team brought out three pigs: one with a brain untouched by a Neuralink, one with a Neuralink removed later (to demonstrate that you can take one out with no negative consequences), and Gertrude, a pig who is currently setting up a Neuralink . It took a few minutes to lure Gertrude out from behind the curtain, but when they did, Musk showed that the pig was still behaving normally and glanced at the signals the implant was sending onto a screen.
After the demonstration, the Neuralink team answered a few questions about the device. They are currently limiting the project to the cortical surface, but plan to possibly delve into deeper parts of the brain where the device could improve eyesight, for example.
The first clinical study is aimed at patients with spinal cord injuries such as paraplegia, but the device could one day be used occasionally, e.g. B. To enable users to play StarCraft through their minds. Musk even said that one day people will be able to save and play back memories, and possibly even download them into a new body.
In the past, we've wondered if these chips are vulnerable to hackers who could steal brain data. The team also reassured viewers that security is important and that brain data is properly encrypted. Hopefully mind hackers won't play a role in the years to come.
As for the price, Musk believes it will be quite expensive at first, but over time, he hopes it will only cost a few thousand dollars.