This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl.
Neuralink, Elon Musk's AI research company, held a live event on August 28 to present its findings so far. At the event, the company unveiled a prototype of V2, an automated surgical robot that is the first step toward realizing Mask's vision of combining humans and AI. A demonstration of the Link 0.9 AI chip, aka the "Fitbit of the head" that uses 1024 electrodes connected to the brain, was also given.
The Link chip fits like a lid on a hole drilled in the skull for surgery and monitors the patient's temperature, blood pressure and exercise status to provide early warnings about an impending heart attack or stroke, for example, according to the company. Data can be communicated wirelessly at a few Mbps over distances of up to 10 meters, so there's no need for a cable extending from your head to be connected to some machine. The power supply is a built-in battery that can run for an entire day and can be charged wirelessly. The device is also not permanent and can be removed if you don't need it, or upgraded to new hardware.
Neuralink placed a device that housed a hearing aid-like chip behind the earlobe when it was announced in 2019. Eventually, the company hopes to reach electrodes deep into the brain, into the gray matter where the central nervous system connects, and have the chip monitor hypothalamic functions.
At the event, Musk introduced ‘three piglets’: the first is an untreated healthy piglet, the second is a piglet that has had the chip removed and is 100% flesh and blood again after surgery. Both piglets seemed to be in a good mood after being fed by their keepers.
And the third one is a piglet with the chip connected to its head. This third piglet's Link chip communicates with an external computer by catching the signal from its nose, and the computer emits a sound whenever the piglet smells something tasty and the corresponding neurons fire (a synaptic action potential is generated).
At the 2019 event, Musk said he wanted to connect the device to the human brain by the end of the year, but that hasn't happened yet. However, Musk told Bloomberg in July that "monkeys could control computers with their brains".
However, it remains to be seen whether success in monkeys will still work as well in the human body. But Musk claims that someday it will be possible to store and recall a person's memories in these devices, and even download that person's consciousness to another body, as in the sci-fi drama Altered Carbon.
Connecting electrodes to the brain to create an interface has been done in other research before Neuralink was founded. However, making flexible wires like the Link chip available as electrodes is important because it causes less damage to the brain. And while the human body is a corrosive environment for metals, with the finer objects degrading faster, one of the researchers said during the Q&A session that one of the main challenges is making sure that the devices can continue to function for decades.
Musk said that connecting the brain to AI could help solve neurological problems ranging from memory loss and stroke to various addictions. On the other hand, he said it could also be used to monitor ongoing health conditions, such as alerting people to the occurrence of heart attacks, as first noted. And he said that the first clinical trial to confirm that the Link chip implant is safe and functional will be conducted in patients with severe spinal cord injuries.
And one of the most important things Neuralink seeks to achieve, Musk said, is "merging the human brain with AI," saying, "I think that's clearly the future we want, to have a world where the collective will of people across the planet can be controlled." This could be the vision that Musk has been warning about, to prevent humanity from being ruined by AI, which has become far more intelligent than humans.
Musk says the device will be quite expensive when it becomes available to the public. Still, he hopes to keep it in the thousands of dollars and says, "It should be as easy to get as LASIK surgery.
While the announcement alone might make it seem as if Neuralink is doing well, this Tuesday, the medical industry news site Stat published an article about five former employees. The article exposes Neuralink's "chaotic internal culture," noting that the company was under pressure to simply rush the project, which at times led to failed experiments on animals, and that the company moved from mice to primates at a stage that would never have been possible in the medical field. Neuralink says that some or all of what is written in Stat's article is wrong.
In the past, Musk has built Tesla into an electric car manufacturer of global value, transported people to the ISS with SpaceX, created a recyclable rocket, and dug holes in the basement of Los Angeles and Las Vegas. With that in mind, it's clear that Musk is capable of choosing and executing what's feasible, even if it's difficult. Nevertheless, realizing Neuralink's ultimate goal will likely require not only developing the necessary technology, but also gaining the buy-in of the medical and scientific communities, including the ethical aspects.
This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl. The Japanese edition of Engadget does not guarantee the accuracy or reliability of this article.