Neuralink’s Brain Chip Plans: Help the Blind See and the Paralyzed Walk

Neuralink, the Elon Musk startup that hopes to connect our brains directly to computers, made two medical breakthroughs on Wednesday: helping blind people see and helping people with spinal cord injuries walk.

The company, one of five companies led by Musk, is working on technology to drop thousands of electrodes thinner than a hair onto the outer surface of the human brain. Each electrode is a tiny wire connected to a battery-powered, remotely rechargeable, quarter-sized chip package inserted into a point that once occupied the circumference of the skull. The chip, called N1, communicates wirelessly with the outside world.

The technology is still a long way from early medical uses, with Musk’s latest vision of using Neuralink to communicate with super-intelligent AIs. But the company is making significant progress, including applying to the Food and Drug Administration to begin human trials, which it expects to begin in 6 months. a show and tell event lasts more than two hours.

“Our goal will be to turn on the lights for someone who has lived in the dark for decades,” said Neuralink researcher Dan Adams, who is working on converting the camera data into a brain-friendly format and transferring it directly to the visual cortex. .

Now playing:
Check this out:

Elon Musk shows off the latest Neuralink demo of monkey typing…

7:11 a.m

Musk is a bit of a believer when it comes to revolutionary technology. His electric car company Tesla is revolutionizing cars, and his SpaceX outfit is revolutionizing space access with reusable rockets. His reputation as a tech genius took a hit with the Twitter chaos after his $44 billion purchase. Musk’s Boring Company, which aims to modernize road transport with tunnels, has yet to deliver on its promises.

Neuralink doesn’t look easy on a social network. Connecting computer hardware to our own software poses major technical, regulatory, and ethical challenges. Helping the blind see is one thing, but feeding our brains directly digital can’t help those of us who spend too much time on our phones.

Neuralink technology helps quadrupeds walk

Previously, Neuralink showed how its electrodes can listen to brain activity. By capturing the brain signals of a monkey named Pager playing the classic video game Pong, Neuralink computers learned to interpret motor control signals. Then his brain signals could control the game.

At Neuralink’s show-and-tell event designed to recruit new talent, the company demonstrated a new trick: A monkey named Sake used his mind to follow and type commands on a virtual keyboard. Their implants are charged wirelessly, with the monkeys munching on a fruit smoothie to sit beneath a charger placed on a branch just above their heads.

But Thursday’s biggest breakthrough used the same electrodes to send signals to the neurons that make up our brains and nervous systems.

One experiment used electrodes in the spinal cord of a pig to control various leg movements. Neuralink’s approach involves not only capturing the brain’s movement commands and translating them into legs, but also hearing the sensory signals from those limbs and sending them back to the brain so the brain knows what’s going on.

A diagram of the Neuralink connection between a person's brain and spinal cord

Neuralink has made progress toward its goal of using the N1 chip to capture signals from the brain and transmit them through spinal cord injuries so that paralyzed people can walk again.

Neuralink; Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

“We have a lot of work to do to achieve this full vision, but hopefully you can see that all the pieces are there to make it happen,” said Joey O’Doherty, a researcher working on Neuralink’s motor control technology.

Seeing pictures and writing with your mind

Another experiment fed visual data captured by a camera into a monkey’s visual cortex, showing virtual flashes that the monkey interpreted as being in different locations. This Neuralink technology hopes to lead to visual prosthetics for blind people.

The first generation of Neuralink technology uses 1,024 electrodes, but Neuralink has demonstrated new generation models with more than 16,000 electrodes. Adams said this much detail would significantly improve the fidelity of the image a blind person can see.

A monkey sipping a reward tube with a fruit smoothie looks at a computer screen with a virtual keyboard

A monkey named Sake uses his mind to control the cursor to type words with a virtual keyboard.

Neuralink; Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

“If you put a device on either side of your visual cortex, it would give you 32,000 points of light to create an image in a blind person,” Adams said.

Another Neuralink application allows paralyzed people to use their implants to write minds.

“We believe that a person with no other interface to the outside world can operate their phone better than someone with a working hand,” Musk said.

Neuralink is not alone

Neuralink is not alone behind the so-called brain-machine interface (BMI) or brain-computer interface (BCI) technology. Academic researchers have consistently produced research papers, and startups such as BlackRock Neurotech, Synchron, and Paradromics are also active. Some, like Nuro, use non-invasive approaches that require no surgery.

One thing that separates Neuralink from some of these efforts is its goal of mass production.

“Manufacturing is hard—I’d say it’s 100 to 1,000 times harder to go from a prototype to a device that’s safe, reliable, scalable, cost-effective, and scalable.” “It’s quite difficult.”

Musk imagines Neuralink making millions of brain chips, and he thinks he’ll have one too. To achieve this goal, the company tries to automate the technology as much as possible. Its R1 robot passes electrodes into the brain without damaging blood vessels, but the next-generation machine is designed to perform more operations, including cutting the skull.

Neuralink is also trying to place brain chips one layer away from the brain, at the edge of a layer called the dura. This required major changes to the robot’s needles and needle steering systems, improvements the company is working on today.

“There aren’t that many neurosurgeons — maybe about 10 per million people,” said Christine Odabashian, who leads Neuralink’s surgical engineering team. “To do the best and have an affordable and accessible procedure, we need to understand how a neurosurgeon can control multiple procedures at the same time.”

Musk’s sci-fi vision for Neuralink

Another big difference between Neuralink and its competitors is Musk’s sci-fi vision.

The company’s ambitions are big: “A generalized input-output device that can communicate with every part of your brain,” Musk said. But the long-term plan is bigger.

“What are we doing about artificial intelligence, artificial general intelligence?” Musk asked. “If we have a digital super-intelligence that’s smarter than any human, how do we mitigate that risk at the species level? Even in a benign scenario where AI is very benign, how do we travel? How do we participate?”

According to Musk—conceptually for now, but perhaps physically as well—the answer is Neuralink.

Source link