It’s 2020, and keeping up with how other things have been this year, tech demos aren’t quite the same either.
Elon Musk today showed off the progress of his brain interface startup Neuralink using three live pigs. Musk first showed off a normal pig, then a pig which had had Neuralink’s chip embedded in its brain for over 2 months, and a third pig, which had a Neuralink implant for a while which was subsequently removed. All three pigs seemed healthy and happy, and showed no visible signs of having an implant embedded in their skulls.
As far as what the implant can do, Neuralink’s implant in the second pig’s brain could detect when the pig’s snout came near objects — when the pig’s snout approached a surface while feeding, it let off a series of beeps, and was quiet when the snout was away from a surface. More impressively, the implant could precisely predict the position of each limb of a pig that was walking on a treadmill through its brain activity alone.
While Neuralink’s demos were on pigs, the company does intend to eventually use them on humans. Musk said that the device in its next avatar could be implanted into humans, and could help those with spinal injuries and paralysis recover the use of their limbs. Neuralink’s device is the size of a large coin, and is implanted by taking out a small portion of the skull. Fine wires, which are 1/20th as wide as a human hair, extend into the brain, and can both pick up signals and provide electrical impulses. The implant would need to be charged overnight, and can be implanted through a surgery after which the patient can leave the hospital the same day.
Neuralink says that for its first iteration, the implant will help those with severe brain and spinal cord injuries, but the possibilities of an implant could be endless. The implant can communicate with a mobile phone through Bluetooth, and companies could eventually write apps on it. Through an app, the implant could simulate feelings in users, help them store and play memories, and be extensively used in gaming. Elon Musk has opened up a brave new world, and if Musk’s latest demo was any indication, Neuralink could end up changing humanity as we know it.