Neuralink: All you need to know

by Antonia Alalitei

 

Would controlling a computer with our mind sound worthy of a science fiction story? Are we at the point where, by just the power of our mind, we can control the phone in our pocket or the laptop on our desk? Skeptical? It seems closer to reality than we may think, according to Neuralink. 

 

What is it?

The billionaire and technology entrepreneur Elon Musk founded the neurotech company only 3 years ago. Even with so little time, it has managed to develop a groudbreaking implantable BMI. There are indeed quite a few existing BMIs on the market, in the form of neuroprosthetics that can interpret motor brain signals and allow disabled patients to control their limbs again. But Neuralink is stepping up the game: their implant aims to interface wirelessly with other intelligent devices, using biocompatible technology that would allow the safe, long term use of the device. What does that mean? Technically, it could allow a two-way communication between the individual and external technologies, just by thinking it, with the help of a mobile app.

 

How does the magic work?

The device is aiming to use thin electrode threads(ten times smaller than hair strands) to be implanted in the brain by an ultra precise robot. Such thin threads were chosen for biocompatibility reasons, in order for the brain not to reject a foreign body. The need for the robot comes due to the high sensitivity of the brain tissue and the risk of perfusing blood vessels during implantation, which the robot can avoid by live adjustments. These threads would be able to record, as well as stimulate, neural electric signals related to motor and sensory control. The electrode threads will connect to an electronic chip placed behind the ear, which will communicate wirelessly with a computer, allowing users to control and feel with their mind. 

So far, the chip has a USB-C extension that allows connections with external devices, but the aim is to completely give up any wired connection, with a special focus on the speed of communication, fast enough to match the speed of our neural signals, thus bypassing the need for spoken or typed commands. The company has given a detailed talk explaining this functionality, revealing surprising results which claim that “a monkey has been able to control a computer with its brain”.

 

Inspiration and future aims

Even though the short term purpose of Neuralink is to treat prevalent neural diseases, the greater aim of this daring piece of technology is to open the way towards human and AI symbiosis. In Musk’s view, this merging is vital to avoid humans being left behind by technology, a possible future threat for humanity. The concept was inspired by the science fiction universe in “The Culture” by Iain Banks, which portrays a society of artificially enhanced sentient beings, through a “neural lace”, an extra digital layer surrounding the cortex.

Bioengineering comprises every bit of technology that makes Neuralink possible. The belief of #SSIMA2019 is that wonders can happen with collaboration across tech fields. Anything is possible with imagination, even transferring science fiction stories into reality!

Keep the movement alive, never stop Re:imagining! Have we stirred your curiosity? Get excited about a time of possibilities by watching the full Neuralink presentation here: https://www.neuralink.com/ Keep following us for weekly news updates and don’t forget to listen to “Trust me, I’m an engineer!” show with Elena Ovreiu, only at Radio Guerilla!