Tesla-founder and SpaceX boss Elon Musk gave an update on the progress of his Neuralink project using live pigs with the device implanted.
What Is Neuralink?
The Neuralink idea is to create an implantable device that can act as an interface between the human brain and a computer. The hope is that the device could then be used help deal with serious conditions such as Parkinson’s by helping sufferers to control their movement instead of relying on strong medication, and even to control games and other programs along with devices and vehicles using just the power of thought. Mr Musk has also suggested that the Neuralink implant could be used to save and replay memories thereby allowing people to enjoy special moments as and when they wanted.
The (disk-shaped, 23 x 8 mm) Neuralink device is implanted in the skull, with some small wires attached and is fully hidden under the hair. The device, which has 1024 channels, all of which are read/write (but are only read channels for the pig’s implant), has an all-day battery life that recharges overnight, and currently has a wireless range of 5 to 10 metres meaning that it could communicate with the user’s phone. It is intended that all of the channels in the device will be read/write in the future.
The Neuralink demonstration by Mr Musk involved three pigs. One pig named Gertrude currently has the device implanted while another pig had previously been implanted with the device but had the device removed. This pig was present to illustrate that the device could be removed safely and that this may be necessary as the hardware is updated over time and better versions become available. The third pig had no implant fitted.
The demonstration showed how the neural activity of Gertrude the pig could be sent wirelessly to a screen, and a series of bleeps sounded when the pig touched anything with her snout. This indicated that the device could read brain activity related to the search for food.
Medical / Moral / Ethical
It remains to be seen how successful the tech tycoon’s work can be compared to that of existing medical research, although Mr Musk announced that Neuralink had received a Breakthrough Device designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as well as suggesting that the company was looking to place the implant in human soon.
Some commentators have noted the potential dystopian possibilities of implants that could potentially be used for control, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) reacted very angrily to Mr Musk’s use of pigs. PETA president Ingrid Newkirk issued a statement saying, “PETA challenges Elon Musk to behave like a pioneer and implant the Neuralink chip in his own brain”.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Although the device is in its early stages, the opportunities for its use in helping with medical conditions are promising and a device such as this could open up many other opportunities and whole new areas for development for companies and developers hoping to use the interface to link with a variety of products and services in a unique way.
It should also be remembered that Mr Musk is regarded more as visionary than neurological expert and that there are many medical, legal, research and ethical challenges to overcome before devices like this are used beyond research projects.