Elon Musk has become well known for his involvement in researching and developing innovative, game-changing technology. At the end of August, Musk shared new developments on one of his latest ventures: neural implants. Musk’s latest livestreamed progress update on his Neuralink technology was met with both awe and skepticism for the device’s functionality and applications.
Using 1024 electrode threads that are implanted in the brain by a robot, the 23-by-8-millimeter device is designed to sit flush with your skull. It is inductively charged and can be inserted by the robot in less than an hour. Surgical implantation would be out-patient and would not require general anesthesia, so patients could leave the hospital soon after surgery, and presumably remain fully conscious while the robot removes a coin-sized portion of their skull.
Ultimately, Musk’s “FitBit for the brain,” as he has called it, is designed to help people with neurological conditions operate various technologies with their thoughts. Aside from enabling people to communicate better via phone or computer, Musk has also claimed that the Link will pave the way for reversing hearing loss, blindness, paralysis, brain damage and depression.
According to Musk, the primary focus of the livestreamed event was aimed at recruiting talent to work on the Neuralink device, which he also refers to as the Link. To demonstrate the development progress, Musk brought 3 pigs with him on the stage – one with a Link implanted, one that previously had a Link that had since been removed, and one with no Link.
The pig with the Link was also shown walking on a treadmill in a pre-recorded video, in a presentation to show how well the Link can predict joint movement and location based on readings from the animal’s neurons. While the predictions based on the brain activity did fall very closely in line with the actual joint placement, critics pointed out that neuroscience technology should operate with more precision and accuracy than just being “close.” However, the Link is still in its beta stage, with far more development lined up.
Other critics have argued that the technology is not bringing anything new to the table and were more impressed with the robotic implantation than with the device’s functionality itself. While it is possible that the technology’s advancements were overstated, brain implants and their applications will nevertheless remain at the forefront of neurotechnology research.