Neuralink: The present, and the future.
Neuralink is one of the most ambitious projects by Elon Musk. This is developed by Neuralink Corporation.Neuralink Corporation is an American neurotechnology company founded by Elon musk. The company’s headquarters are in San Francisco and was started in 2016.This was publicly announced in March 2017. With this project, Neuralink is trying to create an interface between human and machine (BMI — Brain Machine Interface). They have released v0.9 on August, 28 2020. It is a coin sized chip with very thin electrodes. This can be implanted into the brain using a surgical robot. This opens a wide range of possibilities in the medical and automation fields.
Let us first understand the working of our brain before going into Neuralink’s working.
How our brain works
Our brain is a large network of neurons. Neurons are communicating with each other by combination of electrical and chemical signals.The main parts of the neuron are:
Cell Body — This part of the cell contains nucleus and genetic information
Axon — Long tube like extension from the cell which carries the electrical impulses.
Dendrites — Small branch like extension which receives signals from the axon.
Synapse — There is no direct connection between two neurons, there is a microscopic gap that exists between them. This is called the synaptic gap. In the synaptic gap electrical signals are converted to chemical reactions which emit chemicals called neurotransmitters. These chemical messengers trigger nearby neurons, then chemical reactions are again converted to electrical impulses and passed to other neurons.
How neuralink works
Neuralink consists of two parts:
Link — A small coin size chip which is responsible for receiving, transmitting, and processing the information. A rechargeable battery with inductive charger is included in this chip for wireless charging. It provides 12hrs of battery life for each charge. Also it has a bluetooth connectivity option so that we connect with other devices
Neural Threads — These are thin flexible electrodes for detecting neural signals. These threads are directly inserted into our brain using a high precision surgical robot.
These chips are implanted in specific parts of the brain based on our need, for example if we need to get a signal about our movement then it is placed in the motor cortex of the brain. When we think of moving, neurons in the motor cortex start to transmit electrical signals which create an electrical field. These signals are captured by neural threads that are placed in our brain and send the signals to the link. Links can be easily connected to any device and transfer data.
How Neuralink is useful
Our neural system is based on the electrical impulse received on a particular area of our brain. For example what we see is the result of the electrical signal received on the visual cortex of our brain. If we can send an electric signal to the visual cortex from the camera then we can see. By placing the neuralinks, we can receive from devices like cameras, microphones, etc. Also we can communicate back to devices like robotic arms and limbs, etc.
Another possibility is we can communicate with machines directly by thoughts. We can move the cursor by using our thoughts. For this they have developed an iOS application called The Neuralink App in which we can control the phone and type using our thoughts.
They have not tested this in humans, so they don’t have proper records. It is tested in pigs because pigs have close resemblance to our skull. Entire surgery is done using robots so risk involving this surgery will be less. Research done in pigs shows that even if we remove links this will not damage the brain.
Security of this device is critical. So they have added security in each layer of the product using strong cryptography, defensive engineering, and extensive security auditing
We can expect great improvement in the medical and automation field. Possibility of backup memory and restore memory so that any serious damage to our brain does not lose our past memory. Blindness, Deafness, Alzheimer’s etc can be easily cured.
“AI doesn’t have to be evil to destroy humanity — if AI has a goal and humanity just happens to come in the way, it will destroy humanity as a matter of course without even thinking about it, no hard feelings.” — Elon musk