New York: At an event last week, Elon Musk revealed more details about his mysterious neuroscience company Neuralink and its plans to connect computers to human brains. While the development of this futuristic-sounding tech is still in its early stages, the presentation was expected to demonstrate the second version of a small, robotic device that inserts tiny electrode threads through the skull and into the brain. Musk said ahead of the event he would “show neurons firing in real-time. The matrix in the matrix.”
And he did just that. At the event, Musk showed off several pigs that had prototypes of the neural links implanted in their head, and machinery that was tracking those pigs’ brain activity in real time. The billionaire also announced FDA had awarded the company a breakthrough device authorization, which can help expedite research on a medical device.
Like building underground car tunnels and sending private rockets to Mars, this Musk-backed endeavor is incredibly ambitious, but Neuralink builds on years of research into brain-machine interfaces. A brain-machine interface is technology that allows for a device, like a computer, to interact and communicate with a brain. Neuralink, in particular, aims to build an incredibly powerful brain-machine interface, a device with the power to handle lots of data, that can be inserted in a relatively simple surgery. Its short-term goal is to build a device that can help people with specific health conditions.
Musk has already said the project allowed a monkey to control a computer device with its mind, and as the New York Times reported in 2019, Neuralink had demonstrated a system with 1,500 electrodes connected to a lab rat.
Musk opened Friday’s event by emphasizing the wide variety of spinal and neurological conditions — including seizures, paralysis, brain damage, and depression — that Neuralink technology could help treat.
“These can all be solved with an implantable neural link,” said Musk. “The neurons are like wiring, and you kind of need an electronic thing to solve an electronic problem.”
But it’s worth highlighting that Musk wants Neuralink to do far more than treat specific health conditions. He sees the technology as an opportunity to build a widely available brain-computer interface for consumers, which he thinks could help humans keep pace with increasingly powerful artificial intelligence.