It is hard to keep Elon Musk and his disruptive innovations out of the news, and he is back in the limelight with another revelation. This time, it is through Neuralink — one of the five companies Musk runs. Neuralink has unveiled a brain chip that lets a monkey type with its brain, taking Musk’s plan of linking brains directly to computers one step closer to reality.
The science and other stuff to know
For a few years now, Neuralink has been working to create a chip that will enable the control of computers, and eventually other devices, through the power of the mind alone. No touch, no speech whatsoever involved in the process.
The technology is based on dropping “thousands of electrodes thinner than a hair into the outer surface of human brains”, CNET reported. Each electrode will be a tiny wire connected to a chip the size of a quarter that will be implanted into the human skull. The chip will be battery-powered and will have remote charging. The chip, named N1, will have the ability to communicate with the outside world wirelessly.
Musk conducted a “Show and Tell” event this week where he claimed that N1 could be implanted in a human brain in the next six months, adding that Neuralink had submitted a majority of the required paperwork to the Food and Drug Administration for getting permission for human clinical trials.
Neuralink has earlier showcased monkeys playing ping-pong using the chip and it has now unveiled a video showing monkeys using the chip to type on a computer.
Whenever one talks about such technologies, one cannot help but recall the great scientific mind of Stephen Hawking. Hawking was a true modern genius whose groundbreaking discoveries were only marginally slowed down by his physical condition. Imagine the wonders the scientific world would have been witness to, had a technology like the one Musk plans existed 20 years ago.
Having the potential to dissociate the limitations of compromised physical mobility from the power of the mind, the device could do wonders for people with physical disabilities. Coupled with speech-generating devices like Hawking’s, these chips could help people harness their mental abilities to become truly independent, both physically and mentally.
For example, they could help an ALS or MND patient like Hawking control a completely self-driving car of the future, or even pilot a remotely operated plane. The human brain has immense power, and the possibilities could be infinite!
With the request for human trials submitted to the authorities, Neuralink appears headed aggressively toward the home stretch. According to The Verge, company researchers claimed they were developing treatments that could either “help improve or restore vision, or restore movement in people with paralysis”.
In one experiment shared in the show and tell, electrodes in a pig’s spinal cord were used to control different leg movements. Advances as such could be a game-changer for hundreds of thousands of people across the world and add quality to their life.
Given Musk’s grit and fortitude, the technology might not be far away coming.