What is Elon Musk Neuralink technology?

            Do you know there are nearly 1 in 50 people living with paralysis, nearly 284 million in the world are suffering from anxiety and it is paper data, world’s biggest population is suffering from bad addiction. So Elon Musk says his neurotechnology firm “Neuralink” will be able to solve any number of medical conditions — including paralysis, anxiety, and addiction with the help of Neuralink.

What is Elon Musk Neuralink technology?

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Many of you know what is Neuralink but for those who don’t know them, I will tell you what is Neuralink. 

Neuralink Corporation is a neuro-technology company founded by Elon Musk and others, developing implantable brain–machine interfaces also known as BMIs. In April 2017, Neuralink announced that it was aiming to make devices to treat serious brain diseases in the short term, with the eventual goal of human enhancement, sometimes called transhumanism.

Last year, Musk Musk has unveiled a pig called Gertrude with a coin-sized computer chip in her brain to demonstrate his ambitious plans to create a working BMI.

Gertrude was one of three pigs she took a while to get going, but when she ate and sniffed straw, the activity showed up on a graph tracking her neural activity. She then mostly ignored all the attention around her.

 What Neuralink was previously was working on?

Neuralink has published one scientific paper, in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. The paper describes the development of their robotic device, an arm able to insert hundreds of thin threads, about a tenth of the width of a human hair, into the brain. It’s sometimes dubbed the “sewing machine” and is capable of inserting around six threads per minute, each one composed of flexible plastics and featuring 192 electrodes.

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Neuralink’s older system embedded in a laboratory rat.

Neuralink was previously working on interfacing with the rodent brain. It detailed two Neuralink systems, A and B, tested on rats. The former can insert more than 1,500 electrodes and the latter, 3,000. The paper describes a free-moving rat attached to system B with a USB-C slot sticking out of its head, but there’s no clear indication of Neuralink having settled on the best place for electrodes.

 What is the technology used by Neuralink?

In 2019, during a live presentation at the California Academy of Sciences, the Neuralink team revealed to the public their first prototype to the public they were working on.  That technology involves ultra-thin probes that will be inserted in the brain, a neurosurgical robot that will perform the operations, and a high-density electronic system capable of processing information from neurons.

neuralink installation
Neuralink's BMI technology sinks electrodes into the brain then uses a chip to communicate with computers outside your skull.

The technology which is installed in pigs was like Fitbit (Illustrated in the above image) in skull then a Bluetooth outside is linked to a computing device, though the neuralink is looking at other radio technology it can use to dramatically increase the number of data links.

Many people were in doubt that the pig demonstration showed neural activity being broadcast wirelessly to a computer, it didn’t reveal any of Neuralink’s long-term ambitions, like a computer usefully communicating back to a brain or a computer understanding what the spikes of neural activity actually means.

What is Brain-Machine Interfaces(BMI)?

Brain-machine interfaces (BMI) are designed to perform translating neuronal information into control instructions for an external computer or prosthetic arm. It record from specific brain areas, interpret the incoming neurological signals and selectively stimulate regions of the brain to elicit specific desired responses. 

 Deep dive into Technology

Basically, the technology used by Neuralink is divided into three parts:-

1. Probes:-

The probes are made of polyimide(high-performance plastics), a biocompatible material, with a thin gold or platinum conductor. It is inserted into the brain with the help of an automated surgical robot. 

Each probe consists of an area of wires that contains electrodes capable of locating electrical signals in the brain, and a sensory area where the wire interacts with an electronic system that allows amplification and acquisition of the brain signal. Each probe contains 48 or 96 wires, each of which contains 32 independent electrodes, making a system of up to 3072 electrodes performation.

2. Surgical Robot:- 

Neuralink has developed a surgical robot for Each probe consists of an area of wires that contains electrodes capable of locating electrical signals in the brain, and a sensory area where the wire interacts with an electronic system that allows amplification and acquisition of the brain signal. Each probe contains 48 or 96 wires, each of which contains 32 independent electrodes, making a system of up to 3072 electrodes per formation.

The Surgical Robot has and head for insertion with a 40 μm diameter needle made of tungsten-rhenium designed to attach to the insertion loops, made to transport and insert individual probes, and to penetrate the meninges(membranes enveloping brain) and tissue cerebral.

Fact:- This surgical robot is capable of inserting up to six probes (192 electrodes) per minute.

 3. System:-

Neuralink has developed an Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) to create a 1,536-channel recording system. The system consists of 256 amplifiers capable of being individually programmed (“analog pixels”), analog-to-digital converters within the chip (“ADCs”), and peripheral circuit control to serialize the digitized information obtained.

This system is used to convert information obtained from neurons into an understandable binary code in order to achieve a greater understanding of brain function and the ability to stimulate these neurons back.

But the problem arisen is electrodes are still too large to record the firing of individual neurons, so they can record only the firing of a group of neurons. Neuralink thinks that this issue can be reduced algorithmically, but it’s computationally expensive and does not produce exact results.

What is the need to connect Electrodes directly to the Brain?

Neural activity can be monitored from outside the head using non-invasive techniques such as EEG. In these techniques, each channel records the whole activity of millions of neurons and because of that details are blurred away. Recordings made at a distance may provide some useful and high-level information. But to access fine-scale information we need to be closer to the source that means recording action potentials, or voltage spikes from individual neurons. 

 Future Goals of Neuralink:-

1. To help people deal with the brain and spinal cord injuries.

2. Cure the Congenital defects.

3. The technology will help paraplegics who’ve lost the ability to move or sense because of spinal cord injury.

4. Curing neurological conditions.

5. Solving medical conditions like memory loss, moderate strokes, or mitigate addiction, depression, blindness.

Some long term goal of Elon Musk is 

 1. Telepathy where two people can communicate electronically by thinking at each other instead of writing or speaking.

2. Prosthetic limbs might also be controlled by signals from the Link chip.

3. Controlling everything with a brain.

4. The person using neuralink technology will able to type emails and text messages, browse the web, or anything else that can be done with a computer, just by thinking about how they want the cursor to move. 

But does Neuralink is Safe?

As Neuralink has developed its technology to great extinct but is it sustainable for humans this is still a question and it can solve only after human trial.

The US Food and Drug Administration last year granted Neuralink approval for “breakthrough device” testing, in recognition of the technology’s therapeutic potential. Neuralink’s implants are easy to repair, replace and remove in the event of a malfunction, or if the wearer wants it removed for any reason and no harm will be caused to the brain. Brain Surgery seems scary but it is being done safely for many years.

There is a big concern in everyone of hacking the humans that means if anyone hacks the Neuralink technology then they can control everyone who is connected with it. And the worse condition that can occur is hackers will take control of a large population of people and they can manipulate them to vote for a certain candidate, party or issue, covertly toppling governments and entire state infrastructures. And in the most severe scenario, hacking a Neuralink could turn “hosts” into programmable drone armies capable of doing anything their “master” wanted. 

Problems with Neuralink technology

Prof Andrew Jackson, of neural interfaces at Newcastle University said they are working through the engineering challenges of placing multiple electrodes into the brain. In terms of their technology, 1,024 channels are not that impressive these days, but the electronics to relay them wirelessly are state-of-the-art, and the robotic implantation is nice. The biggest challenge is what you do with all this brain data. The demonstrations were actually quite underwhelming in this regard and didn’t show anything that hasn’t been done before. He went on to question why Neuralink’s work was not being published in peer-reviewed papers.

Prof Jackson is involved in practical research. He has explored helping spinal injury patients by relaying signals from their brains to their spinal cords to restore some arm movements says everyone who’s been working in this field for a while is excited by the possibilities that come when you get big tech companies and enthusiastic supporters trying to put money behind this. But while he was impressed by Neuralink’s technology, he said he was skeptical about the talk of using it to read and write memories and otherwise enhance brain functions. He explained that, while neuroscientists have made progress in understanding how the brain controls movement, how it processes thoughts and memories is still a mystery.

Some claim that Elon Musk’s Neuralink is neuroscience theater.

Neuralink’s Monkey playing Pong with its mind

No, I am not talking about science fiction but it is true. A nine-year-old macaque monkey called Pager successfully played a game of Pong with its mind. 

A coin-sized disc called a “Link” was implanted by a precision surgical robot into Pager’s brain, connecting thousands of micro threads from the chip to neurons responsible for controlling motion.

At first, Pager was shown how to play pong by using Joystick and whenever he wins he received a sip of banana smoothie. 

When the pager was playing pong Neuralink implant recorded the patterns of electrical activity in his brain. This identified which neurons controlled which movements. The joystick then disconnected, after which Pager played the game using only his mind.

The technology used on Pager was from 2020, which involved Gertrude the Pig. Gertrude had the Link installed and output recorded.

Doubts and Question on Monkey Experiment

Some have said that this experiment isn’t so revolutionary as it seems and that similar technology has been around for two decades. First comparable demonstrations took place in 2002, Business Insider reported, a group of researchers successfully got a monkey to move a cursor on a computer screen at will by decoding activity of a few dozen neurons in its motor cortex into a signal. The actions were very similar to what we saw in the Neuralink video. 

But some scientists said though this happened before but Neuralink’s technology is far better and ahead than that and Neuralink’s demo show significant technical advances, particularly in terms of the wireless system and number of electrodes that seem to have been successfully implanted.’

And many environmentalists raised a question on animal’s safety and their condition in the lab. Some say “In many neuroscience experiments monkeys are kept constantly thirsty or hungry to coerce them to cooperate and stare at a screen for hours”.

PETA(People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) told Observer that experiments similar to Neuralink’s have been done many times before, always at the expense of animal’s lives, and nothing has achieved from it.

Neuralink response on Animal Care

Neuralink responded:-
Like all animals, pigs and non-human primates deserve our utmost respect and appreciation. Every aspect of their care is thoroughly evaluated by a team of veterinarians and behaviorists, ensuring access to high-quality nutrition, socialization, and enriched spaces to perform species-specific behaviors. For example, Pager lives with his best mate, Code. They enjoy swinging from their treehouse and napping in their hammocks after an engaging gaming session. All of the behavioral tasks that Pager and his friends participate in are voluntary, and trained using positive reinforcement. Pager’s first choice in a preference test is often banana smoothie, and some days it is strawberries!

When will human trials start?

Elon Musk said, Neuralink’s human trial will start from the end of this year but details were not released. Many people are tweeting to become a part of Neuralink human trials. 

Neuralink claims that technology can offer a much faster way of interacting with computers, compared to methods that involve using hands or voice.

A user will be able to type a message at the speed of thought and not be limited by thumb dexterity. The use will only have to think the message and the implant could convert it to text. The text could then be played through software that converts it to speech.

But the more exciting claim is that BMI technology will able to connect brains to cloud technology and all its resources.

Last year, The Oxford Student said that Neuralink delivers a “symbiosis with artificial intelligence” that can significantly preserve and enhance our brains. Which can help humans merge with artificial intelligence. 

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