A live demonstration of the chip was performed. The chip, dubbed the Link v0.9 was implanted into the skull of a pig named Gertrude. The device recorded signals from an area of the brain linked to its snout. At the time of the demonstration, the chip was implanted into Gertrude for two months.
An array of dots was displayed and a series of noises were heard every time Gertrude’s snout touched things. A pig’s brain activity is largely devoted to its snout since it is a crucial sensing instrument.
Since Neuralink’s previous event last year, the design of the Brain Machine Interface (BMI) chip has changed considerably. The device is now coin-shaped and sits flush with the skull. Last year, it was a small module implanted right next to the ear.
How Does the BMI Device Work?
Once the device is implanted, 1024 tiny electrode “threads” penetrate the outer layer of the brain. They detect electrical impulses from nerve cells that show the brain is at work.
Musk described the device during the event as a “Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires”.
The Neuralink founder also stated that the device can be paired with a smartphone application over Bluetooth Low Energy.
The device that is currently considered to be cutting-edge in this field is the Utah Array. It is an implantable device that consists of only 256 electrodes which can read and stimulate activity. This is the function that Neuralink is working to improve on.
Friday’s demonstration effectively showcased neural activity being broadcast wirelessly to a computer.
The company is looking at other radio technology available to increase the number of data links between the device and the brain.
What are Neuralink’s Goals?
The company’s ultimate objectives are the stuff that you see in dystopian science-fiction movies.
Musk previously declared that Neuralink’s long-term goal is to achieve “symbiosis” between humans and AI. The company will try to build devices that enable users to back-up or restore their memories. Musk also claimed that the back-up can be potentially downloaded “into a new body or into a robot body”.
The aforementioned electrode threads will also be designed to communicate back to the brain through computer-generated signals. The threads will also be aimed at understanding what the spikes of neural activity will eventually mean.
Short-term, however, Neuralink’s objectives are more attainable. The company is focused on the medical field. It is aiming to help people with severe brain injuries and malfunctions.
For example, the device can treat spinal cord injuries and help paraplegics recover their ability to move or sense.
During the event Musk was hopeful that “in the long term it’ll be possible to restore somebody’s full body motion”.
Since Neuralink’s device was compared to a Fitbit, Musk potentially sees several health benefits. The device can measure temperature, pressure and movement, data which can warn about possible strokes or heart attacks.
During the event, Musk stated that clinical trials in humans could start during this year. Musk admitted, however, that there are “significant technological challenges that must be addressed before a high-bandwidth device is suitable for clinical application”.
While Neuralink’s latest events were very intriguing, it remains to be seen what the device is truly capable of. Clinical trials have yet to begin, and the technology remains more-or-less a mystery.
If the BMI device is able to fulfill Neuralink’s objectives, the future of Mankind is ready to be altered.
Elon Musk has already delivered on a myriad of challenges in the past. The entrepreneur has been able to identify problems, take them head on and solve them. That goes from making Electric Vehicles more accessible on the international market, to lowering the costs of space access.
Neuralink may be Musk’s biggest challenge yet. On one hand, the company is treading on thin ice from an ethical standpoint. On the other, it still has to convince the science and medical community of its device’s viability.
Time will tell.