With Elon Musk being busy with Twitter, his brain-computer interface firm Neuralink has been trying to advance its technology in order to develop implants that would enable direct brain-to-computer communication.
These devices, also known as BCIs or brain-computer interfaces, use tiny electrodes implanted in the brain to “read” signals from neighboring neurons. These signals are subsequently translated into commands or actions, such moving a cursor or a robotic arm, via software. In 2019, Musk asserted that his product might someday enable humans to “symbiose with artificial intelligence.”
Neuralink will soon have it’s first patient
The 2016-founded business is still a long way from fusing AI and our brains. The Neuralink team demonstrated a variety of upgrades to its technology during a livestreamed “show and tell” session on Wednesday night.
Musk did mention that Neuralink has started submitting papers to the Food and Drug Administration for a human clinical trial and anticipates implanting a Neuralink implant in a patient in 6 months.
Before implanting a device in a human, Musk said, “We’ve been working hard to be ready for our first human, and obviously we want to be really careful and ensure that it will function well.”
Neuralink will target impairments first in the clinical trials
Elon disclosed that the business’s first two planned uses for its technology would be to enable persons with paralysis to use their digital gadgets without difficulty and to help people who have lost their vision to see again.
We think we can return vision to people even if they have never had vision before, such as if they were born blind, according to Musk.
The presentation included a video demonstrating how Neuralink’s implant had been used to create a visual sensation—a flash of light—in a monkey’s brain, even though there was no evidence of eyesight restoration in the presentation.
What happened in the demonstration?
Using a dummy that had been filled with a gelatinous “brain proxy” material, the Neuralink researchers also demonstrated how its surgical robot inserts electrode threads.
These electrode threads capture emitted signals from the brain while also stimulating it. According to DJ Seo, the company’s vice president of implant, “it’s capable of managing very small threads that are only on the order of a few red blood cells wide and inserting them reliably into a moving grain while avoiding vasculature.”
It’s pretty good at reliably accomplishing this. It took the robot around 15 minutes to insert 64 threads into the dummy during the demonstration.
BCIs have been in development since the 1960s, although none are currently on the market and the technology is still regarded as experimental.
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How is Neuralink better?
These interfaces, which have only been fitted to a small number of people as part of research trials, have allowed paralyzed volunteers to control a wheelchair and convert ideas into voice. However, the technology is still in its early stages.
The brain implant that has undergone the most testing is The Utah array, a square of hard silicon with 100 minute projecting needles. The needles, which are each roughly a millimeter long, have electrodes on their tips that record brain activity.
However, the tissue close by may become scarred as a result of these inflexible devices, which may eventually affect their ability to record. On the other hand, the flexible threads attached to Neuralink’s implant are covered with more than 1,000 electrodes and is one of the company’s breakthroughs.
How does the implant work?
The company’s sewing machine-like robot could attach electrodes by punching them into the brain through a small hole in the skull, which would be an improvement over current BCIs that need cumbersome setups and invasive brain surgery.
Additionally, unlike most current BCIs, which rely on external connections that link to a computer from the top of a person’s head, the device sends brain signals wirelessly.
Pigs with the coin-sized Neuralink implant trotted onto a stage at a company event in 2020 so Musk could demonstrate the implant’s safety and its capacity to record neural activity from the pigs’ brains. “A Fitbit for your cranium with tiny wires,” was how he characterized the device.
How are Neuralink’s competitors doing?
The newest implant from the business, which is about the size of a quarter and has 1,000 channels, can record and stimulate neighbouring neurons. However, Neuralink employees said on Wednesday that they were developing a new technology with 4,098 channels in a chip the same size.
While Neuralink may be the most well-known, a few other businesses are also developing brain implants and are battling with similar issues like safety, longevity, and what they can program the implant to do.
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