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Futuristic Tech: Neuralink Update

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On August 28, Elon Musk provided a progress update for his company, Neuralink, which is aiming to create implantable Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) to enhance the brain. The company’s mission is to use a small, seamlessly implanted brain chip called “the Link” to solve various brain and spine issues, as well as enhance human capabilities. 

How Does Neuralink Work?

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Neuralink. “Neuralink Progress Update, Summer 2020.” YouTube, August 28, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVvmgjBL74w&feature=youtu.be

The Link is about the size of a large coin (23mm by 8mm), and it’s implanted in the skull through a surgery performed by a robot. The implant itself is attached to the skull, and it’s also connected to electrodes with wires (currently 43mm long) which extend deeper into the brain. The device is aiming to be used to correct signals to the brain in order to solve complex brain and spinal issues, such as seizures, blindness, and hearing loss, among others. 

The image below visually demonstrates the full process of the installation procedure for the Link. First, a coin-sized piece of the skull would be removed. Next, the electrodes connected to the device would be inserted by the robot conducting the procedure. Finally, the scalp would be put back into place, and the link wouldn’t be visible. Only a small scar would remain in the incision’s place.

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Neuralink. “Neuralink Progress Update, Summer 2020.” YouTube, August 28, 2020.

The procedure would take less than an hour without the need of general anesthesia, and the patient will be able to leave the hospital on the same day. Musk also stated that the device will have a full day battery life, with it being charged wirelessly overnight. Furthermore, it’ll have a wireless range of 5-10 meters, and will be using bluetooth technology to connect to other devices, such as smartphones.

Progress

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Neuralink. “Neuralink Progress Update, Summer 2020.” YouTube, August 28, 2020.

During last night’s event, Musk provided an update on Neuralink’s progress, and even demonstrated the Link in real time. 

In terms of progress, the architecture of the device has changed quite a lot since the last summer, as shown in the image above. The plans for the device last summer consisted of multiple parts, including one part of the device resting behind one’s ear. Now, the Link has been simplified to consist of a coin-sized implant that connects with electrodes that extend wires deeper into the brain. 

For the demonstration, there were three pigs that were brought out: Joyce (who didn’t have the Link), Gertrude (who has had the Link for about two months), and Dorothy (who had the Link removed). All of the pigs seemed healthy, and Gertrude’s Link detected real-time neural spikes from her brain as the neurons connected to her snout were firing when she was shuffling along the ground.  

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The blue spikes are the neural spikes detected by Gertrude’s Link when her snout touches something. Neuralink. “Neuralink Progress Update, Summer 2020.” YouTube, August 28, 2020.

Another demonstration of the device’s capabilities that was shown was mapping the predicted position of a pig’s joints when on a treadmill. The darker lines shown in the image below include the actual position of the pig’s joints, and the lighter lines show the position of the joints that was predicted based on the reading of the neurons done by the Link. As the image illustrates, the two lines are nearly identical. 

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Neuralink. “Neuralink Progress Update, Summer 2020.” YouTube, August 28, 2020.

Potential Applications

At the end of the presentation, the Neuralink team took some time to discuss future applications of the device, and they were really exciting! Here are some of the highlights:

  • Recreating visual images in the minds of people who are visually impaired.
  • Providing advance warnings for heart attacks and strokes.
  • Supervision – allowing people to see using X-Ray and Infrared filters, among others.
  • Telepathy
  • Limiting human suffering by potentially controlling pain, and removing fear and anxiety.
  • Eliminating memory loss by creating some sort of repository of memories that can be accessed on demand.
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The Neuralink device is capable of solving many complex brain and spinal issues, as well as advancing human capabilities to be able to compete with artificial intelligence (AI).

Challenges

When asked about the potential challenges of bringing the Link to life, the Neuralink team listed the following issues:

  • The installation of the electrodes.
  • Choosing materials to create the Link that are safe when placed in the brain.
  • Ensuring that the device can last for long durations of time.
  • Being able to remove the device, potentially multiple times, in order to upgrade it.

Additionally, Musk mentioned that the cost of the device when it is first released will be quite expensive, but he hopes to lower it to a few thousand dollars, inclusive of the installation procedure.

Furthermore, the Neuralink team stated that the security and privacy of its future clients is of utmost importance. They’re currently working to ensure that device’s interactions with the brain are encrypted and authenticated, as well as ensuring that the attack surface of the device is minimized. Moreover, they will be performing audits and penetration testing with third parties to make sure that the device is secure.

Key Takeaways

  • Neuralink is aiming to use a small, seamlessly implanted brain chip called “the Link” to solve various brain and spine issues, as well as enhance human capabilities. 
  • The Link is about the size of a large coin, and it’s implanted in the skull through a surgery performed by a robot.
  • A demonstration of the device was provided in which the Link detected real-time neural spikes from a pig’s brain as the neurons connected to her snout were firing when she was shuffling along the ground.  
  • Some of the potential, exciting applications of the device include telepathy, supervision, and storing memories for long-term use. 

While this technology is really exciting, Neuralink still has a long way to go to ensure that the device is safe and ethical. If successfully created, the Neuralink device will be a game changer for human civilization.

Leave a comment down below regarding your views on this technology! Do you believe this technology should be brought to life or not?

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