Neuralink – Is man ready to become cyborg? – Elon musk is known for his extremely ambitious projects and his ability to make them a reality. But of all his projects, the most fascinating one for me is definitely Neuralink. An idea that has something incredible and one would think is pure science fiction. Neuralink will have incredible effects, with the ability to change the lives of many, many people people who really need it, but over time it could change yours too.
It’s a multi-stage project, one more incredible than the other. I advise you to stay with me until the end
of the article, because the last phase is really, really something crazy. Let’s not waste any more time and let’s dive in!
How many people nowadays have or have to do with Alzheimer’s or dementia or stroke, with paralyzed parts of the body or blindness or deafness? The brain is the area of our body that’s most unknown to us at the moment. When something starts not working in the brain, we have very few solutions. And it’s for this reason that Neuralink is a project that breaks the mold, even only in phase one, where it plans to restore memory to Alzheimer’s patients.
But the potential of phase one is much more extensive, according to Elon: “It could in principle fix almost anything that is wrong with the brain”. It could restore vision even to those who have completely lost the optic nerve or the hearing of a deaf person. It could recognize an oncoming epileptic seizure and stop it before it starts.
It could bring a quadriplegic back to full limb functionality. Definetly a revolutionary technology. But let’s see what it is. Neuralink is creating a high bandwidth Brain Machine Interface, or BMI, which consists of the brain and a machine, whether it’s a phone or a computer. But how can the brain and the computer interact?
For example, you ask questions and I answer.
The brain is made up of neurons, which form a network capable of communicating via synapses, that’s, connection points between the various neurons. They communicate via neurotransmitters using ion signals, these are called Action Potentials. All that we have ever felt, touched, experienced, remembered, all the sensations we have ever had, are nothing more than electrical signals interpreted by the brain. Crazy right?
The brain is made up of two related layers, the limbic system and the cerebral cortex. The limbic system is responsible for emotions and survival instinct. The cortex, on the other hand, is responsible for problem-solving skills, thinking, awareness, memory and language. Neuralink aims to create a third layer, a digital layer in relation to the others.
By implanting electrodes, in different parts of the brain, capable of capturing the signals produced by neurons, then sent to a device that analyzes them. The electrodes are also capable of producing signals to communicate with neurons. Wait, wait … I know that now you are already thinking about how dangerous and uncomfortable such an operation can be.
Generally when you think of traditional neurosurgery, you think of something very invasive. The patient whose head is partially or wholly shaved and at the end of a long and difficult operation will remain a large and visible scar. In Neuralink’s case, it won’t be any of this. Neuralink provides for an operation under conscious sedation, so, no general anesthesia. A skull hole of about 1 inch will be made, the electrodes will be inserted, and the chip will replace the missing piece of skull.
No stitches will be needed. It will not even be necessary to go to the hospital, since they aim to make the operation simple and automated as LASIK, the laser eye operation. The device is made up of various chips measuring four by four millimeters with 1 thousand electrodes each.
The electrodes are wires the size of a tenth of a human hair, so, practically invisible to the naked eye. They are roughly the size of a neuron and this is a very important factor, since having to enter the brain, the smaller they are and the less risks there are that traumas are created. The threads are also flexible, to accommodate brain movements. A good step forward compared to other BMI such as Deep Brain Stimulation, used to treat Parkinson, which uses much larger electrodes, exposing the patient to a high risk of stroke.
Due to the size of the wires, Neuralink had to develop a robot capable of performing the operation with extreme precision and safety, capable of inserting the electrodes avoiding veins and arteries, following and assisting the brain movements. What you see is the tip of the robot compared to a penny, crazy. A small incision will also be made behind the ear to insert a small wireless battery-powered device connected to the chips, able to connect to a smartphone.
Just remove the battery to turn off the device. An application in the smartphone will allow you to train yourself in moving a cursor around the screen and the phone can then connect to a mouse and a computer, allowing you to type and control the computer with your mind. Cool right? The device has already been tested on monkeys and according to Elon: “Monkey has been able to control the computer with his brain”.
Well, if a monkey did it, I can do it without problems, right? Right? But the project will first have to be approved by the FDA for medical purposes and then for public use. Currently the best FDA-approved BMI is used for Parkinson’s patients and only has 10 electrodes. Neuralink is already 1 thousand times better than what is currently approved and is only the beginning.
Elon plans to have a working prototype in a patient already in late 2020. The potential of Neuralink is immense, think that the Utah Array project has allowed patients to text each other with their minds and control things on the computer, with only 256 electrodes. The Neuralink prototype surgically implanted in a rat and successfully recorded from, has 3072 electrodes.
We still have no real idea of the things it could allow us to do. And this brings us to the second phase of the project. This is the intermediate phase, extremely interesting but still within the limits of the imaginable. Wait until you know about phase three. Anyway, imagine how the communication speed changes according to the tools used. From writing with the pen, to typing with the keyboard, to speaking through Siri.
Yes, I said Siri, so what?
The next step is to use the brain directly. The problem is that the current interface is too slow, we navigate at the speed of the thumbs while the computers process data at speeds unthinkable for us. After version 1 of the device is released, from that moment it can only improve over time, upgrading it with additional functions.
At that point, video games and movies will be indistinguishable from reality, fully immersive and with the possibility of interacting directly, experiencing every sensation. Remember? All we experience are electrical signals in the brain. But it’s not just about entertainment. The time will come when you no longer need to speak with your mouth, our neural interfaces will be able to communicate non-verbally by exchanging data, communicating concepts and ideas more clearly and without misunderstanding.
A sort of reading the mind, if you want. We can still speak by mouth, but it will be our precise choice when to do it. Languages? They will no longer be a problem, just download a file to learn them, as in the Matrix. We can have a perfect memory, with the possibility of reliving past situations with extreme clarity, I intend to relive them in full, as if we were there. And much more.
It’s crazy to think of such a thing right now, the scope of this possibility is enormous. At the current rate of growth of technology, an advanced interface could arrive within the next 10 years, Elon’s time. But if all this seems incredible to you, it’s still nothing, because now it’s time to talk about phase three.
One of the thoughts that keeps Elon Musk awake at night is the idea that in the event of an evolution of artificial intelligence, humans could not keep up. Yeah… me too, I can’t sleep for that The singularity, that is the moment when the machines will exceed the level of human understanding, is expected around 2040. Not so far away. For Elon, the only way to keep us from being overcome is to merge with them. You know, if you can’t beat them, join them.
His idea is to achive a sort of symbiosis with artificial intelligence, have the option of merging with AI. In a sense, we are already Cyborgs. We are constantly connected to the internet via our mobile phones and we have reached the point where losing our mobile phone would make us feel as if we were losing a part of ourselves. The Neuralink device, in the distant but not too distant future, could be that interface between the machine and the brain that will allow fusion with AI.
This is science fiction … or maybe not? Neuralink isn’t the only company working on a BMI. Facebook and Google are some of the companies that are funding BMI-related projects. In one way or another, we are going in that direction. We are in the digital age, but we have only taken a step from the front door. We haven’t seen anything yet and this thing makes me chills this or the cooling fan next to me.
What do you think about it? What possibilities do you think Neuralink project can create? Let me know in the comments and if you liked the article.
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