Elon Musk wants to start chipping human brains within six months - IGN

Elon Musk wants to start chipping human brains within six months – IGN

Elon Musk wants his brain chip company Neuralink to begin human trials within the next six months.

During a recent ‘show and tell’ event, the billionaire revealed that the company would try to use the implants to allow blind people to see through cameras, help people with spinal cord injuries communicate and maybe even regain the use of their body.

A Neuralink implant is a wireless chip-based system housed in an enclosure approximately the size of a quarter that is designed to be implanted into the skull, where it interfaces directly with the human brain via a series of wires. lowercase. Each of these wires – which are the width of a few red blood cells – carries a complement of 16 electrodes and is capable of both tracking signals sent from the brain and stimulating them.

To be implanted, a surgeon must gently cut through an outer layer of skin and flesh, before puncturing a section of the patient’s skull, and finally removing a layer of tough connective tissue, exposing the brain underneath.

A specially designed robot – which has been imaginatively named R1 – then gets to work inserting the ultra-thin wires carrying the electrodes individually into precisely targeted sections of the brain. In a live demonstration that took place during the show and tell, it took the R1 robot just 20 minutes to install the 64 wires of the implant into a model brain.

The current “N1” device has now been miniaturized to the extent that it matches the thickness of the cranial layer removed to implant the chip. This allows the technology to occupy the hole where the bone once was and be concealed under the skin.

According to Musk, putting a Neurolink interface in your head would be like replacing a piece of your skull with a smartwatch. Not the best sales pitch I’ve ever heard.

Although a daunting prospect, the possible future benefits of adopting such a device could be considerable. Musk’s intention is to create a whole-brain interface that could be used medically to dramatically improve the lives of people with disabilities, and which in the long run could allow anyone to interact with technology using just the implant. and the power of his mind.

The company has already tested its implant on a number of pigs and macaques. In 2021 Neuralink revealed that it successfully trained a monkey implanted with the device to play the arcade game Pong using only signals from its brain.

The monkey – named Pager – first learned to play and understand the game using an ordinary joystick. During this process, the implant recorded Pager’s brain signals and identified which ones were used to control the joystick, and therefore move the paddle.

The joystick was then removed and the Macaque was able to successfully direct the paddle with its thoughts by communicating via implanted Neuralink technology.

Since teaching a monkey to play Pong, Neuralink has been busy testing and improving the technology in anticipation of a transition to human trials. According to Musk, the company has now submitted most of the relevant documents needed for such experiments to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for ensuring the safety and effectiveness of human testing.

In this week’s show and tell presentation, the controversial entrepreneur reiterated his overall view of Neuralink implants and presented the progress being made in their testing and development.

Musk also revealed his timeline for human testing, saying “in about six months we should be able to have our first Neuralink in a human.” He went on to explain that Neuralink’s animal testing is intended to be “confirmatory, not exploratory,” and that rigorous bench testing is performed before implanting an animal subject.

Animal rights groups had previously condemned the company’s treatment of its lab animals. As CNN reported, an American non-profit group – The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine – called for an investigation into the company’s practices, citing “gross violations of animal welfare law related to the treatment of monkeys used in invasive brain experiments”.

“We’re confident that someone who basically has no other interface to the outside world would be able to control their phone better than someone who has working hands.”

The company is now working with a troop of six monkeys and has already improved the chip embedded in the skull of the Pager macaque. Since the Pong experiments, the monkeys have been encouraged to complete a series of tasks designed to test the interface, with the new hardware dramatically increasing the speed at which they could interact with the technology using a mouse-controlled cursor. the mind.

One such test was shown at the event, in which a monkey instructed a cursor to move to a highlighted key on a virtual keyboard in order to write the words “welcome to show and tell”.

The screen was designed to showcase the potential benefits that technology could bring by allowing people with disabilities to quickly communicate using a mouse cursor or phone, without the need to interact with a physical device. .

“We’re confident that someone who basically has no other interface to the outside world would be able to control their phone better than someone who has working hands,” Musk explained.

The company is also working to future-proof the Neuralink implant by allowing surgeons to easily upgrade hardware when a new model becomes available. However, there are currently significant challenges that must be overcome – many of which are the result of our body’s impressive healing abilities – if that is to be the case.

“Our goal will be to turn on the lights for someone who has spent decades living in the dark.”

Musk has already set two ambitious short- and medium-term goals when the FDA approves testing of Neuralink implants in humans. The first is to restore a form of vision to patients who suffer from blindness.

“Even if someone never had vision, like they were born blind, we think we can still restore vision,” Musk said. “The visual part of the cortex is still there.”

This is theoretically possible due to the implant’s ability to stimulate the brain, says visual neuroscientist Dan Adams, principal investigator at Neurolink.

If attached to the visual cortex, stimulation of the wires could be used to bypass the human eye and form an image directly in the brain. This technique could also be scalable, with more electrodes – and therefore stimuli – allowing higher-resolution images to be projected into the brain.

Scientists envision a future where data from a camera could be transmitted to the implant, which in turn stimulates the right cells in the visual cortex to create a simplified version of the image in a person’s brain.

“Our goal will be to turn on the lights for someone who has spent decades living in the dark,” Adams explained.

The other main goal of Neuralink is to help people paralyzed by spinal cord injuries to communicate using technology.

“We believe there are no physical limits to enabling full body functionality.”

Even more ambitiously, the company hopes to “bridge the connection” between the brain and the body and transmit signals from the motor cortex to Neuralink devices in the spinal cord, which could then stimulate muscle movement.

Scientists have already tested this technique by implanting devices into the brain and spinal cord of a pig and successfully manipulated the movement of one of its legs.

“We believe there are no physical limits to enabling full body functionality,” Musk explained. “As miraculous as it sounds, we believe it is possible to restore full body functionality to someone whose spinal cord has been severed.”

In January, Neuralink posted a job posting on its website for a Clinical Trial Director to help “build the team responsible for enabling Neuralink’s clinical research activities”, and so it is not no surprise that Musk is aiming to advance human trials.

However, it should be noted that the billionaire is well known for setting overtly ambitious deadlines for his many technology, infrastructure and automotive projects, and given the nature of the trials, it will be interesting to see if and how quickly FDA grants approval to proceed with human testing.

Beyond its potential to improve the lives of people with disabilities, Musk also explained what he sees as the device’s necessity for the future of the human race. Specifically, he worries about our potential to keep pace with advanced artificial intelligence that may arise in the coming decades.

“Even in a benign scenario where the AI ​​is very benevolent, so how are we even going to go around,” Musk asked. “The biggest limitation to following the path and aligning the AI ​​is, I think, […] how fast you can interact with the computer.

He hopes Neurolink will be a springboard to bridge the gap between human intelligence and artificial intelligence. As always, the future seems to be coming at us swiftly in a terrifying mix of dystopian optimism.

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Anthony is a freelance contributor covering science and gaming news for IGN. He has over eight years of experience covering groundbreaking developments in multiple scientific fields and has absolutely no time for your shenanigans. Follow him on Twitter @BeardConGamer

Image credit: Getty Images

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