Elon Musk’s Neuralink is secretive company developing brain-machine interfaces, showed off some of the technology it has been developing to the public for the first time.
The goal is to eventually begin implanting devices in paralyzed humans, allowing them to control phones or computers.
The first big advance is flexible “threads,” which are less likely to damage the brain than the materials currently used in brain-machine interfaces.
These threads also create the possibility of transferring a higher volume of data, according to a white paper credited to “Elon Musk & Neuralink.”
The abstract notes that the system could include “as many as 3,072 electrodes per array distributed across 96 threads.”
The threads are 4 to 6 μm in width, which makes them considerably thinner than a human hair. In addition to developing the threads, Neuralink’s other big advance is a machine that automatically embeds them.
In the future, scientists from Neuralink hope to use a laser beam to get through the skull, rather than drilling holes.
Early experiments will be done with neuroscientists at Stanford University, “We hope to have this in a human patient by the end of next year,” Musk said.
During a Q&A at the end of the presentation, Musk revealed results that the rest of the team hadn’t realized he would: “A monkey has been able to control a computer with its brain.”
“It’s not going to be suddenly Neuralink will have this neural lace and start taking over people’s brains,” Musk said. “Ultimately” he wants “to achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence.” And that even in a “benign scenario,” humans would be “left behind.”
Hence, he wants to create technology that allows a “merging with AI.” He later added “we are a brain in a vat, and that vat is our skull,” and so the goal is to read neural spikes from that brain.
The first person with spinal cord paralysis to receive a brain implant that allowed him to control a computer cursor was Matthew Nagle.
In 2006, Nagle played Pong using only his mind; the basic movement required took him only four days to master,
“Neuralink didn’t come out of nowhere, there’s a long history of academic research here,” Hodak said at the presentation on Tuesday.
“We’re, in the greatest sense, building on the shoulders of giants.” However, none of the existing technologies fit Neuralink’s goal of directly reading neural spikes in a minimally invasive way.
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