Can you imagine being able to save your memories on a computer, directly from your brain, and see them again whenever you want? Or even “download” them to another body? That is the future that billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk envisions and that could facilitate the technology developed by his neuroscience start-up, Neuralink. Musk revealed a preview of the company on its ambitious quest to empower humans with super powers.
Neuralink, Elon Musk’s ambitious project to connect our brains to computers
The firm seeks to implant this type of device in the most complex organ of the human being, to help cure diseases such as Alzheimer’s or allow people with neurological diseases to control telephones or computers with their minds.
However, the greatest ambition of the company, co-founded by Musk in 2016 and based in San Francisco, focuses on opening the door to what Musk calls “super human cognition.” People need to merge with artificial intelligence (AI), the businessman argues, in part to avoid a scenario where AI becomes so powerful that it destroys the human race.
In the presentation, Musk described the Neuralink sensor, about 8 millimeters in diameter (smaller than the tip of a finger), as a “Fitbit in your skull with little wires.” The device developed by the company consists of a small probe that contains more than 3,000 electrodes connected to flexible wires and finer than a human hair, which can monitor the activity of 1,000 brain neurons.
The businessman showed the robot with which the company introduces these threads into the areas of the brain that are responsible for motor and sensory functions while the recipient is under local anesthesia.
The entrepreneur presented what he described as “a demonstration of three small pigs,” including Gertrude, the animal that has been implanted for two months with the chip implanted in the part of the brain that controls the snout. Musk showed the public how a computer displayed the brain activity of the animal connecting with the device.
The device can be removed, Musk said, citing another pig, Dorothy, who had the implant done and later removed. He also noted that they had tried implanting two devices in other pigs. “All of them are healthy, happy and without differences with a normal pig,” he stressed.
Stanford University neurologist Sergey Stavisky considered that the firm had made “significant and admirable progress” since its presentation a year ago and showed the benefits of having a multidisciplinary team working towards this goal.
In the latest advance released, the company claimed that it had tested a monkey, which had been able to control a computer with its brain. Other experts outside the cited company also praised Musk’s advances, although they asked for caution, considering that longer studies are needed to determine the durability of the device and its consequences.
University of Pittsburgh Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Jennifer Collinger described Musk’s project as “a truly revolutionary technology in the difficult space of medical technology. Neuralink has sufficient resources and, most crucially, a team of scientists, engineers and doctors working for a common goal, which gives [the project] great chances of success,” he said.
However, he added: “Even with these resources, the development of medical devices takes time and safety needs to be a top priority, so I suspect that this process will take longer than they have set as a goal.” Indeed, in the presentation, Musk appeared to backtrack on the timelines for human testing, which he had previously said would begin this year.