Neuralink, Elon Musk’s brain-machine interface company aiming to merge human brains with artificial intelligence (AI), recently carried out an interesting demonstration of its developments to date. In an event streamed on YouTube, the company showcased a pig fitted with the company’s device in its brain.
Named Gertrude, the pig had a device implanted in its brain that was able to record signals from its brain that were linked to its snout. Since snouts of pigs are sensitive, a large part of their brains are devoted to it.
So as the demonstration proceeded and Gertrude’s snout touched things, the device displayed these signals generated in the pig’s brain in the form of an array of dots and a series of noises. At the time of the demonstration, the pig had had the device implanted in its brain for two months.
A Fitbit in skull
Implanting of Link in the brain. (Image: Neuralink)
Though the device itself was not visible during the demonstration, the renderings showed a new design for it. What used to be a small device placed behind the ear is now a coin shaped device meant to sit flush with the skull.
It is “like a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires,” Elon Musk said.
Musk also confirmed that the device can be paired with a smartphone app over Bluetooth Low Energy. He elaborated that the main purpose of the demonstration was to raise interest and eventually recruit more people to join the Neuralink team.
The eventual goal
Gertrude with the Link implanted in its brain (Image: Neuralink)
With a team that is targeted to eventually comprise 10,000 employees, Neuralink wants to merge human brains with AI. The AI symbiosis is initially meant to solve complex medical problems including neurological issues.
These problems can range from memory loss, strokes to addiction to substances. The device can even be used to monitor wearer’s health and warn them in case of a heart attack or other medical emergencies.
At a later stage, the device will ultimately lead to AI symbiosis, allowing the human brain to merge with artificial intelligence at a much deeper level.
The way ahead
Elon Musk during the Neuralink demonstration
While brain machine interfaces have been in existence since before, Neuralink has designed thin and flexible wires, which are covered in electrodes, to pick up brain activities, explains a report by The Verge.
Neuralink’s system contains more of such electrodes than any other system. It is hence able to garner much more information than its counterparts. The challenge, however, is to make these threads last for decades inside a brain.
The company has made advancements on its installation though. Earlier Neuralink could implant the device in a simple and safe way as Lasik eye surgery. In the recent demonstration, Musk claimed that it could now be done without general anaesthesia, in under an hour.
The initial clinical trials will be conducted on a small number of patients, those with severe spinal cord injuries. Once established as safe, it will further be provided to other people in need.
Musk hinted that it would be “quite expensive” at first, but he eventually aims to get the price down to a few thousand dollars. “I think it should be possible to get it similar to Lasik,” he said.