Earlier in 2020, Elon Musk showcased the progress of Neuralink brain machine interface to the world with the device outfitted in a pig name Gertrude. The device recorded signals from her snout. So during the demonstration, Gertrude ambled around, touching things with her snout. Whenever her snout touched an area, the neurons fired up and displayed on the monitor as dots and a series of noises. At the time of the demonstration, Gertrude had been carrying the implant for two months.
As per Musk, the purpose of this live demonstration was to encourage neuroscientists and engineers to join Neuralink. Currently, Musk’s team employs over 100 employees, the number Musk wishes to increase by up to 10,000.
The plans for Neuralink brain-machine interface include clinical trials in patients suffering from serious spinal cord injuries.
Soon after the live demonstration, there was a wave of disappointment in the science community who believed the Neuralink brain-machine interface was anything but a breakthrough. The critics seem to be unimpressed with the device’s 1024 channels while some praised the sophistication of the robotic implantation. Some have even called it a scam.
We believe that the scientific community has been very quick to pass a judgment on the device. They are getting into the intricate details, criticizing the device for its underwhelming performance when it is in its infancy. They seem to have completely disregarded the purpose of the demonstration. To truly understand the purpose of Musk’s Neuralink, we must look into how Musk thinks and what he hopes to achieve in the future.
What exactly is Neuralink?
Neuralink is a device, a tiny computer chip (about ⅓ of the size of your fingertip) designed to be stitched into the brain through a sewing-machine robot on a network of wires. After the implant, the device is supposed to pick up brain signals and convert them into motor controls that would allow easy interaction with gadgets, including prosthetic limbs hence achieving a unique symbiosis with artificial intelligence.
How does Neuralink work?
The device consists of an N1 chip (4mm in size) attached to a number of wires that are said to be thinner than a human hair. When the device is implanted into the skull, the thread-like wires pick up the signals exchanged between neurons. The chip records impulses while stimulating its own.
The chip wirelessly connects to a wearable gadget much like a hearing aid and can connect via Bluetooth.
What would it do?
The technology promises to help with several neurological disorders. As most neurological conditions are caused by the brain’s inability to connect with the neural network in the body, Neuralink aims to solve that problem by stimulating neural impulses. If successful, the device would be able to aid with disorders like epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and injuries that harm spinal nerves.
To fully understand Neuralink, you must first understand how our brain communicates with the rest of the body through neurons.
Neurons (also known as nerve cells) are the essential unit of the nervous system. These cells are responsible for acquiring sensory information and translating and relaying electrical signals all over the body for certain motor commands.
The nerve cells are connected forming a colossal network upon which they communicate through chemical signals known as neurotransmitters. When the neurons communicate, they generate an electric field which can be recorded through electrodes.
The electrodes can break down the electric signals and translate them into messages easily decoded by a machine.
This is how the electrodes on the N1 chip would be able to read your thoughts and relay those to the nearby machine.
The Neuralink device will stimulate electrical signals inside the brain, which will not only help with certain disorders but will also allow people to learn new skills.
How will they implant the chip?
The N1 chip is one of its kind and that makes it a unique neurosurgery procedure. The chip has its unique robot that uses a microscope and needles (as small as 24 microns) to implant the chip in the patient’s skull.
The real purpose of Neuralink
Neuralink’s true purpose can be only understood if you understand what kind of a visionary Elon Musk is.
Building something as interdisciplinary as Neuralink requires skill and experience that would readily add to the development of the project. With most tech projects, we either don’t have the right fit for the project or we are unable to give the right employee the environment or the circumstance that would allow them to fulfill the complicated goals of something like Neuralink.
Elon Musk is a 10X visionary and a fire starter, which means that he can see far ahead in the future. He wants to change the world and wants to help change it. If you look at Musk’s previous projects, you will easily see how his vision is beautifully aligned with his actions. He brings the idea, the product, the technology, and gathers the right minds to work on it. He is seldom stopped by the naysayers or the critics because he knows exactly what he’s doing. Elon has a long history with critics who told him that something cannot be done (SpaceX). He is and should be unbothered by the criticism that has surfaced with regards to the Neuralink brain-machine interface in recent months.
Elon understands that you need the right type of mind to be working on a certain project. There has to be constant inspiration and motivation to fuel these minds for greater results. He needs to spark enough interest so that he can attract the right minds for something as sophisticated as Neuralink.
Why does he need to do that
Advancements in tech require leadership and experience. Elon Musk brings both to the table. Although many other companies are creating brain-machine interfaces (Kernel, Paradromics, and Neurable), there isn’t enough interest in this domain to speed up the process to create a viable product. With Musk’s efforts, there’d be soon the perfect team ( the perfect fit within or outside the Neuralink company) that would lead innovation in brain-machine interfaces.