The month of August 2020 holds a special importance for it came with a news that relieved many. It was during this time that Elon Musk made a revelation that his company “Neuralink” had built a self-contained neural implant. With this implant, it could be possible to wirelessly transmit detailed brain activity and that too without the help of any external hardware. Musk’s intention while building the same has been clear since the very beginning. His aim, in his words, is to build a neural implant that can sync the human brain with Artificial Intelligence. This would ultimately pave the way for enabling humans to control computers, prosthetic limbs, and other machines just by using only thoughts. All of this makes use of a brain-computer interface (BCI) system.
To demonstrate the same, Musk made use of pigs. A pig had the neural implant in its brain and a screen depicted the brain activity electrically. Musk’s “Neuralink” has been working on this technology for a couple of years now. A technology that’d enable reading and writing from millions of neurons in the brain, thereby translating human thought into computer commands, and vice versa. Well, there’s more to it. All of this would happen using a small, wireless, battery-powered implant unseen from the outside of the body. This is exactly what caught the attention of people all across the globe.
Though Musk’s company has been experimenting on this for just a couple of years, the situation across the globe isn’t the same though. Researchers across the world have been trying to surgically implant the BCI system in humans for over a decade and half now. So far, very few people in the US have received a BCI implant either for medical reasons or for the purpose of research. However, these systems required the hardware to stick out and that’s where a potential risk of infection always exists. Earlier, there have been cases where groups have experimented with implants on animals but definitely not the way “Neuralink” has done it.
Elon Musk’s Neuralink throws light on how different and unique its neural implant is. It contains all the necessary components, including a battery, processing chip, and Bluetooth radio, along with nearly a thousand electrode contacts. Each of these electrodes is capable of recording the activity in the range of zero and four neurons in the brain. Since Neuralink revolves around about 1000 electrodes, this ultimately would mean the highest number the brain-computer interface has seen from a self-contained implant.
Though Musk had demonstrated all of this live on pigs, a point that’s still worth noting is that how the implant would be able to transmit that much data without generating tissue-damaging heat in humans. Even if all of this is successfully implanted in humans, as claimed, how to decode still remains a major question. A series of advanced decoding algorithms, different statistical and deep learning approaches and similar such techniques will have to be deployed for the same. Though a little complex and tedious, the results would be fruitful as claimed by Musk.
The main application of this implant would be in the field of medicine but Musk wants to go way beyond. He’s looking forward to see this reach heights and serve various non-medical applications as well.