29th August 2020
Elon Musk reveals new details of Neuralink
In this video, Elon Musk demonstrates a prototype brain–computer interface chip – implanted in a pig – that his company, Neuralink, has been working on. The device could one day be used by humans to augment their abilities.
Founded in 2016, the Neuralink Corporation remained highly secretive about its work until July 2019, when Musk presented his concept at the California Academy of Sciences. It emerged that he planned to create brain–machine interfaces (BMIs) not only for diseased or injured patients, but also healthy individuals who might wish to enhance themselves.
Yesterday, in a livestream event on YouTube, Musk unveiled a pig called Gertrude with a coin-sized chip in her brain. Simpler and smaller than the original revealed last year, the read/write link device can nevertheless pack 1,024 channels with megabit wireless data rate and all-day battery life. This latest prototype – version 0.9 – has now been approved as an FDA breakthrough device, allowing it to be used in limited human trials under the US federal guidelines for testing medical devices. The chip is removable, Musk explained, as he showed another pig called Dorothy, who no longer had the implant and was healthy, happy and indistinguishable from a normal pig.
"It's kind of like a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires," he said, adding that the implantation process would be fully automated and performed by a surgical robot in just one hour. The high degree of precision offered by this machine could avoid any bleeding or other damage from inserting the many electrodes.
Musk believes a human version could treat a wide range of problems: memory loss, paralysis, seizures, strokes, and extreme pain, to name a few; plus a number of mental conditions such as anxiety, addiction, depression and insomnia. Outside the realm of healthcare, its uses might include summoning a Tesla car or playing video games.
Eventually, its applications could extend to much greater abilities: "Yes, I think in the future you will be able to save and replay memories. I mean this is obviously sounding increasingly like a Black Mirror episode. But I guess they're pretty good at predicting. But yeah essentially if you have a whole brain interface, everything that's encoded in memory you could upload, you could basically store your memories as a backup and restore the memories. Then ultimately you could potentially download them into a new body or into a robot body. The future is gonna be weird."