Brain implants! You might have seen it in several science fiction movies. However, it might just be steps from becoming a reality. South African-born billionaire, Elon Musk, has revealed that one of his companies, Neuralink, is working towards using brain implants to link the brain with computers. According to the billionaire, the device was tried on a monkey and it was able “to control the computer with his brain”.
Elon Musk is one of the most famous entrepreneurs. His habit of stretching the boundary of technology at short notice is remarkable. According to Elon Musk, if humans don’t form a symbiosis with artificial intelligence, they risk being left behind. Thus, Neuralink has already applied to the United States regulators to permit human trials by next year.
Neuralink hopes the device will be able to help people suffering from severe neurological conditions. However, Elon Musk hopes the device will give humans “superhuman cognition” in the future. Elon Musk is also the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla (TSLA).
What we know about Elon Musk’s brain implant
Neuralink describes the brain implant as “sewing machine-like”. The tiny Bluetooth-enabled implant will connect one thousand wires measuring one-tenth the width of a human hair to tiny chips. The chips have USB-C port similar to Apple’s Macbook adaptor that connects a small computer worn over the ear with smartphones through Bluetooth. However, Elon Musk has this to say,
“If you’re going to stick something in a brain, you want it not to be large. The interface to the chip is wireless, so you have no wires poking out of your head. That’s very important.”
The yet-to-be-named device will fit over 3,000 electrodes into the brain to monitor activity in 1,000 neurons. The accompanying chips can handle ten times more signals than the currently available systems. According to Neuralink, cancer patients, stroke victims, quadriplegics, and those seeking memory boost will benefit from the brain implant.
The implant will be installed by a robot operated by a surgeon. The robot will drill 2-millimeter holes in the skull which will be plugged by the chip. However, Max Hodak, one of the company’s founders and president, hopes this will change in the future with a laser drill. Mr. Hodak said,
“One of the big bottlenecks is that a mechanical drill couples vibration through the skull, which is unpleasant, whereas a laser drill, you wouldn’t feel.”
Expert opinion on the brain implant
Expert neurologists seem impressed by Elon Musk’s brain implant. However, there is a caveat. The idea of a brain implant is not entirely new. In 2011, two tetraplegics received ‘BrainGate’ implant. They were able to control robotic arms including lifting and drinking from a bottle. However, one of the pioneers of the technology, neurologist Andrew Schwartz of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said,
“Overall, the concept is impressive and so is the progress they’ve made. But a lot of this still seems to be conceptual. It’s hard to tell what’s aspirational and what they’ve actually done.”