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All About Neuralink: Elon Musk’s Robot-Surgeon, Thread-Inserting, Brain-Reading Plan

Largely kept away from the prying eyes of the media until now, Elon Musk has just unveiled yet another mind-bending, futuristic plan to save humanity.

Named Neuralink, Musk’s latest venture does exactly what its name suggests – link brains. Aimed at improving accessibility amongst paralysed humans and those with physical limitations, Neuralink would enable control over phones and computers.

Existing attempts have used rigid, thick electrodes that can prove to be invasive and are not ideal for long-term use. Image: Neuralink

Several breaking innovations had enabled this technology to be realised – the biggest being flexible, robust, super-thin brain-reading “threads” that are fine enough to avoid damaging blood vessels and capillaries to minimise irritation and invasiveness.

With each thread causing less damage, Neuralink is then able to implement a much more electrodes that can detect more brain activity. This can enable a more effective brain-machine interfaces (BMI) with up to 3,072 electrodes in each array across 96 threads.

Elon Musk showcased the thread-insertion robot (left), which introduces “threads” that are much thinner than the width of a human hair. Image: Neuralink

Each thread is around 4 to 6μm in diameter, which is thinner than a human hair that averages around 10μm. To precisely deploy these electrodes, Neuralink has purpose-built a robot from the ground up to assist neurosurgeons in implementing the threads up to six threads (and 192 electrodes) per minute. Elon Musk envisions the entire installation process as safe, non-invasive and as pedestrian as LASIK eye correction surgery.

The traditional neurosurgery experience requires a clamp to immobilise patients. Image: Neuralink

While the technology is still a long ways from being complete and ready for commercial use, Musk has stated that “the main reason for doing this presentation is recruiting”.

Elon Musk delineates the potential roles and mechanisms for Neuralink’s Brain-Machine Interface. Image: Neuralink

True to Musk’s vision of emulating LASIK’s ubiquity and safety, Neuralink aims to implement laser beams to penetrate the skull instead of utilising drills. These come with hopes to achieve first human trials by the end of the year.

That’s to say that Musk’s Neuralink is already in the midst of non-human trials. The billionaire extraordinaire responsible for SpaceX, Tesla and PayPal revealed that Neuralink in testing was able to enable a monkey to control a computer with its brain alone.

Each electrode will host multiple threads (right), which will each be connected to the N1 chip (left). Neuralink aims to develop a wireless communicator Pod that will interface with the chip from the outside of the patient’s body. Image: Neuralink

While Neuralink is aimed at accessibility amongst the physically challenged, Musk claims that the ultimate goal is to achieve a “symbiosis with artificial intelligence” in order to ensure that human beings will not be “left behind”.

Neuralink President Max Hodak admitted that although he personally thought it was unlikely to succeed, there has been a long history of research and development. With current technologies, the company is able to build on the shoulders of giants, by implementing many more electrodes that are much less invasive than the thick, rigid needles required by present technological equivalents.

Neuralink’s thread-insertion robot. Image: Neuralink

Having this amount of data transfer capacity essentially overcomes what Musk sees as an essential limitation for interacting with AI – bandwidth. This means that humans can better push out information to machines directly with their brains instead of relying on physical inputs such as with one’s fingers and voice.

At present, Neuralink has developed a chip that is able to process and amplify signals from the brain. They plan to develop a way to wirelessly transmit these signals collected by the N1 sensor within the body to a “pod” on the outside of the brain.

The iOS application will help increase the convenience of maintaining and manipulating the implant. Image: Neuralink

This whole set-up will centre in on an iPhone app, enabling users to directly monitor, maintain and modify the functionality of their implanted devices instead of an expensive and troublesome visit to the doctor’s.

Ian Ling
Ian is the resident Tech Monkey and Head of Content at VR Zone. His training in Economics and Political Science is at the basis of his love for journalism and storytelling. A photographer by passion, and an audiophile by obsession, Ian is captivated by all forms of tech that makes enthusiasts tick.

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