- 1 Neuralink and Brain to Computer Interface Technology
- 2 What is a Brain to Computer Interface?
- 3 Types of Brain to Computer Interface(BCIs)
- 4 History of Brain to Computer Interface(BCIs)
- 5 Elon Musk’s Neuralink: What the Science Says
- 6 Criticisms against Neuralink
- 7 The Future According to Neuralink: Conclusion
Before we go into how Neuralink can change our world and how Elon Musk is revolutionizing Brain to Computer Interface Technology, let’s take a glance at how Neuralink can revolutionize our world. First, have a look at this monkey playing a computer game. This monkey’s name is Pager and Pager playing a computer game. At first sight, it appears like a monkey is using a joystick to play a video game on a computer.
But if we give a closer look, we shall find the joystick is actually disconnected. Now, this is not magic. Pager thinks that he is playing the computer game with a joystick. But that is not so. But in fact, the monkey’s brain is actually implanted with a Brain to Computer Interface(BCI) device, which takes data from the monkey’s brain and feeds it into the computer.
So, the monkey merely has to think where he needs to take the cursor of the computer, and the computer interprets this data and changes the position of the cursor, With this, we can control any computer with our brains. This BCI device was designed by Elon Musk’s company called Neuralink. Elon Musk claims that his company can help paralyzed people walk by using computers. As well as Such devices could perhaps be in the brains of all of humanity in the future. Now, this might appear like science fiction, But it is not, so this is what we will discuss in this blog.
“Control computers using only your mind? Could you play computer games with just a thought? Is it possible to get information on the internet just by thinking about it? , Compose and send emails using only your mind’s power.” Is Elon Musk’s Neuralink capable of accomplishing all of this? Let us talk about it.
What is a Brain to Computer Interface?
Before we get to how Neuralink can transform our world, Let’s try to understand what Brain to Computer Interface actually is? Basically, the Brain to Computer Interface is a technology that enables our brain to communicate directly with Computers just by thinking. Our brain has specialized cells called Neurons, and they serve as the basic working unit of the brain. These neurons are responsible for distributing information throughout the human body.
For instance, let’s imagine you want to move your hand- The moment you think about it, the neurons in our brain create electrical signals. These electric signals are then carried to our hands from our brains through our nervous system, and then, we can move our hands. BCI reads these electrical signals the moment it is generated by neurons in our brain.
It analyzes and then translates these electrical signals into computer commands that are capable of controlling devices connected to a computer. For example- a robotic arm, wheelchairs, etc. This is exactly what was taking place here in this video Pager is merely thinking of moving his hand, the Brain to Computer Interface in his brain transforms this electric signal into a computer command, this movement actually takes place in the computer game.
Types of Brain to Computer Interface(BCIs)
There are three types of Brain to Computer interfaces in this field and the performance of all three are very different.
- Non-invasive BCIs:
Non-invasive BCIs are placed on the scalp from where they record the electric signals. Hence they do not require any surgical procedures.
- Semi-invasive BCIs:
Semi-invasive BCIs require surgery as they are implanted on the exposed surface of the brain. Since they are closer to the brain, they can interpret signals better than non-invasive BCIs.
- Invasive BCIs:
Invasive BCIs are planted directly into the brain after complex brain surgery. Their advantage is that they interpret signals in the best way among the three but the problems include brain surgery and the risk of brain tissue damage as well.
History of Brain to Computer Interface(BCIs)
The concept of Neuralink may sound like a Science-fiction idea, But it is not a very new technology. The research behind this technology is going on since the 1970s. In the 1970s, Jacques Vidal, a computer science professor at the University of California, led experiments on animals to develop a direct communication path between external devices and the brain. In 1973 he published a paper titled: “Toward Direct Brain-Computer Communications” in which he coined the term “Brain Machine Interface” and laid the foundation of this new field.
The year 1998 marked a significant development in this field when researcher Dr. Philip Kennedy implanted a Brain to Computer Interface device for the first time into a human being. His research made history when he made one of his subjects control computer using his brain. A lot of new research has been seen in this field in the last 20 years.
A team of researchers from Brown university formed a company called Cyberkinetics in 2001 to design a Brain to Computer Interface and make it commercially viable. This interface was called Braingate. In 2011, BrainGate made a remarkable breakthrough in their research when they made a 58-year-old woman, who had been paralyzed for 15 years, control a robotic arm to lift a coffee bottle and take a sip just using her brain.
Now, I’d like to talk about you, putting Neuralink aside for a moment. Many other startups, such as Neuralink, are emerging in fields such as data science or AI, and many countries have programs in place to attract technical people to work in such startups in their countries. However, there is a major skill gap in such emerging fields because the curriculum of our traditional colleges does not get updated as often, resulting in a demand for people to work in such startups in their countries.
Elon Musk’s Neuralink wants to make the Brain to Computer Interface more viable commercially. Many BCI experts say that Neuralink’s research has already been done by various research communities years ago. According to some experts, while the others were merely researching, Elon Musk is making products using this research, that can actually be of use to people. This has led to a rise in optimism in the field of BCI.
The involvement of Elon Musk has brought a lot of publicity to this field and other researchers. According to Elon Musk, Neuralink will help connect the brain to the digital world. He believes that in the future, we will be to control our smartphones with our brains. The technology would also enable completely paralyzed people to use a smartphone with their minds which might be faster than physical typing. For Neuralink, the goal is to help people that have remained dependent on others to regain independence.
And to achieve that, Musk’s Neuralink is developing two kinds of equipment-
1. Invasive BCI[Link]
The first is an invasive BCI – (which the company calls ‘Link’) – It is a chip about the size of a coin that would be embedded into our brain. The chip will have an array of tiny wires that will monitor the activity of our brains. This data will transmit wirelessly via Bluetooth by the chip to the computer for further analysis.
2. Robot Surgeon
The second is a robot surgeon that can automatically implant the chip into the human brain. Elon Musk claimed that implanting the device into the brain through this robot can be as easy as common eye surgery. This robot surgeon will supposedly do the implantation with high precision and in less time.
Additionally, the company is also developing an app that would allow us to control our computers, keyboard, or mouse directly by our brain in 2020, the company showed off one of its chips working in a pig during a live demo And in 2021, the company moved one step ahead when they showed Pager playing a video game just with his mind!
Now, it is not that Neuralink is a perfect company. Neuralink has to face criticism due to two main reasons:
1. Unrealistic Claims
First-People believe that Elon Musk’s claims about what his company can do are a little unrealistic. For instance, Musk Claimed that his Neuralink Implant can save memories like photos, He then claimed that it can give superhuman abilities to people, and can help humans fight against the oncoming threat of AI. Others say that the main objective of Neuralink was to help the people that have been paralyzed or those that are suffering from diseases like Alzheimer’s.
And all the things that Elon Musk talks about pertain to normal people. His critics think that NeuraLink should focus on the things that can actually help people rather than attempting to make superhumans out of normal human beings. And for these reasons, some experts believe that Elon musk’s NeuraLink is “Neuroscience Theater” and some of the promises he is making with his Brain to Computer Interface(BCI) will be hard to keep if not impossible.
2. Aggressive Deadlines
The second criticism is that Elon Musk’s deadline appears unrealistic. In 2019, Musk said Neuralink hoped to begin human testing by the end of 2020. But this deadline failed. In December 2021, Musk claimed that his company hopes to start implanting its brain chips in humans in 2022 despite lacking FDA approval to do so. However, the death of 15 monkeys during trials in their labs two months later has brought their products under question.
It might be that Elon Musk is over-promising and under-delivering on project timelines. For instance, Musk pledged to have the autonomous driving software ready for Tesla in 2017 but five years later it’s still not completely commercially operational. But some might counter-argue that it is not easy to set up companies like NeuraLink and raising the expectations of his team might just be a tactic of Elon Musk.
But undoubtedly, Elon Musk’s company can completely change the lives of people in the future. Paralyzed people might be able to walk. And those that are not able to communicate might finally be able to do so. And who knows, some years later, it might be us in this video, instead of Pager.
And we’re all aware of Elon Musk’s abilities. Let’s wait and see what else Neuralink has in store for us in the future.
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