With a device surgically implanted in the skull of a pig named Gertrude, Elon Musk demonstrated the technology from his startup Neuralink to create a digital link between the brain and computers. A wireless link from the Neuralink computing device showed the pig’s brain activity as it sniffed around a pen on stage Friday night.
The demo shows that the technology is much closer to realizing Musk’s ambitions than during a product launch in 2019,. When Neuralink only showed photos of a rat with a Neuralink connected via a USB port. It’s still a long way from the truth, but Musk said the US Food and Drug Administration approved testing for “breakthrough devices” in July.
Musk also showed a second-generation implant that is more compact and fits into a small cavity carved into the skull. Tiny “wires” of electrodes penetrate the outer surface of the brain. Sensing an electrical pulse from nerve cells that shows the brain is at work. In keeping with Neuralink’s long-term plans, threads are designed to communicate back, with their own computer-generated signals.
Musk said it could potentially help cure people with conditions such as memory loss, hearing loss, paralysis, blindness, brain damage, depression and anxiety.
Viewers of the webcast met Gertrude, a pig who had the chip implanted in her brain two months ago. A graphic displayed on the screen showed the waves inside Gertrude’s brain,. Which were triggered when her brain communicated with her muzzle while she ate.
“It’s like a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires,” Musk said of the device.
It communicates with brain cells through 1,024 thin electrodes that penetrate the outer layer of the brain. Then there is a Bluetooth link to an outside computing device. Although the company is studying another radio technology that it can use to dramatically increase the number of data links.
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Although the pig demonstration showed that neural activity was broadcast wirelessly to a computer. It did not reveal any of Neuralink’s long-term ambitions. Such as a computer usefully communicating with a brain or a computer understanding what really mean spikes in neuronal activity.
Medical start, science fiction end for Neuralink
Neuralink has primarily a medical purpose, such as helping people cope with brain and spinal cord injuries or birth defects. The technology could, for example, help paraplegics who have lost the ability to move or smell due to spinal cord injury,. And early human uses will be aimed at improving conditions such as paraplegia or quadriplegia.
“If you can feel what people want to do with their limbs, you can make a second implant where the spinal cord injury has occurred and create a neural shunt,” Musk said. “I am convinced that in the long term it will be possible to restore the movement of someone’s whole body.”