Neuralink is Elon Musk’s secretive company which develops brain-machine interface, showed off its technology to the public for the first time. The goal of the company is to begin implanting devices in paralyzed humans which allows 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 4-6 micrometres thin which is thinner than human hair, another advantage being that the machine automatically embeds them.
Elon Musk gave a presentation not for creating a hype but encouraged people to apply for work for Neuralink. Scientists from Neuralink hope to use a laser beam through the skull instead of the traditional method of drilling holes through the skull. After conducting prior experiments they hope to have this in human patients by the end of next year. Elon Musk also revealed the result that a monkey was able to control a computer with its brain. He added that it is not suddenly that Neuralink will have a neural lace and take over people’s brain but ultimately wants to create a technology which allows merging with AI.
Matthew Nagle was the first person with spinal cord paralysis to receive brain implant which allowed him to control a computer cursor back in 2006 and also played Pong using only his mind. As a part of the research, paralyzed people with implants have moved robotic arms and brought objects into focus by a system called BrainGate.
Neuralink has emerged as a result of a long history of academic research and that no existing technology is in lines with the company’s goal of reading neural spikes. BrainGate relied on Utah Array which are stiff needles with 128 electrode channels which meant less data being picked up and stiffer channels. This problem has been solved by using a thinner polymer in Neuralink.
Neuralink technology is difficult to implant precisely but to combat the difficulty they have developed a neurosurgical robot capable of inserting 192 electrodes per minute. It also avoids blood vessels, which may lead to less of an inflammatory response in the brain. Bandwidth is a problem for interacting with AI as you can take in information more quickly than you can push it out via voice but you are already connected to the machine so this system allows quick communication with machines directly from the brain.
Right now the chip can only communicate data with a wired connection but their ultimate goal is to create a system to work wirelessly. The wireless product called the N1 SENSOR will transmit data wirelessly and Nerualink plans to implant 4 of these in the brain with 3 in motor areas and 1 in the somatosensor area and will be connected to a device mounted behind the ear. This will eliminate the need for general anaesthesia through non-invasive experience however there is a whole FDA process to be done. It is currently testing on rats to check the stability of the system and ensuring high bandwidth brain connection and flexible threads to make it record more neurons and precise outcomes.