Elon Musk Demonstrates How The Neuralink Brain Implant Works Using A Pig

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With its headquarters in San Francisco, Neuralink Corporation is an American neurotechnology company founded by Elon Musk and associates. The company is known to develop implantable brain-machine interfaces with the help of Artificial Intelligence. The company was started in 2016 and was first publicly reported in March 2017. Last week Elon Musk demonstrated how the Neuralink brain implant works using a pig aa a test animal. A pig named Gertrude was the star of the event when Elon Musk showcased a working demo of his latest technology, which is a new kind of implantable chip for the brain. This entire event was live-streamed on YouTube. Once the pig was outfitted with the company’s device, it could record signals from an area of the brain linked to her snout. The implant is planted in her for two months to understand the working of this technology. As Gertrude’s snout came in contact with things, an array of dots along with a series of noises indicated when more neurons were firing. Pigs have large parts of their brains that are dedicated to the snout, which is a sensitive sensing instrument in these animals.

The makers of the Neuralink device have changed its design entirely since it was launched last year, rendering the device itself hard to be viewed on Gertrude. Now the device comes in a coin-shape and is meant to be fitted within the skull, rather than having a small external module resting near the ear. The device is somewhat like a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires embedded in it. This implant can be paired with a smartphone app over Bluetooth in Low Energy.

Gertrude was one of three pigs that took part in last week’s webcast demo. She took a while to adjust get going, but when she ate and sniffed a straw, the activity immediately showed up on a graph tracking her brain’s neural activity. She then ignored all the attention around her. The processor implanted in her brain sends wireless signals, indicating neural activity in her snout when she’s looking for food.



According to Elon Musk, the main agenda of establishing Neuralink and developing these devices is to merge human brains with Artificial Intelligence gadgets. Although this device hasn’t been tested in humans yet. But the US Food and Drug Administration has designated it as a breakthrough device in the history of Artificial Intelligence. It is a program that would allow them to get feedback from the agency throughout the development process.

Neuralink is not the first company to invent brain-machine interfaces they’ve been around and implanted in people since 2006. But the company’s main contribution to the technology is Neuralink’s sleek, thin, flexible wires, which are covered with electrodes to pick up the brain’s signal activity. These wires have more electrodes than other systems which indicates more information and also they do not cause as much damage as stiff needles. However, foreign objects implanted in the brain degrade over time, whereas smaller ones break down faster. One member of the team at last week’s demonstration said that one of the main challenges for Neuralink was to make sure that the device could last for decades in a highly corrosive environment like the brain.


The other major reason to demonstrate this device is Elon Musk’s ambition. He said at last week’s event that the device could help solve a huge number of neurological problems, including memory loss, dementia to strokes to addiction, or even monitor a users’ health and warn them if they’re going to have a heart attack shortly. Similarly at last year’s event, he said that Neuralink could make the implantation process of the devices quite simple and safe just like Lasik eye surgery. He also mentioned that the implantation process could be done without using general anesthesia in under an hour.

The first human clinical trials
In humans, the first clinical trials will be in a small number of patients with severe spinal cord injuries, to make sure it works effectively and is safe. In last year’s event, Musk said he hoped to start clinical trials in humans by 2020. Considering long term goals Musk said they will be able to start implantation in full motion in people with severe types of injuries using a second implant on the spine. But the most important thing the device might be able to do would be to let people achieve what Musk calls “AI symbiosis”. This is a term broadly speaking about how the human brain merges with artificial intelligence.
Right now, the device is restricted to the outer surface of the brain and it doesn’t yet tunnel into deeper regions. This is because many important functions, such as the movement of the body, hearing, and vision happen on the brain’s surface.

Concerning the event, Elon Musk said the primary purpose of the device demonstration was to recruit more people to join the team. At present Neuralink employs about 100 people, but eventually, musk hopes to employ more than 10,000 people. Right now the company is looking to recruit electrical, robotics, and software engineers to work on the device and refine the entire surgical process for the implementation. There’s been a lot of employee turnover in the company since it was launched in 2017, and only two members of the founding team are still working at Neuralink. One of the former employees told in an interview that the company was chaotic and that researchers were under intense pressure to rush through the projects at hand. For example, many times scientists were given weeks to complete projects that would take months to finish. The company is now building a medical device and formulate a surgical approach to implant that medical device at the target location. The company is approaching it with the help of a tech company. Also, Musk is working hard to get the price of the device down to a few dollars to make it affordable to the general public similar to Lasik technology.

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