“You have your phone, laptops, and devices. I mean today, if you don’t bring your phone along, it is like you have missing limb syndrome. We are already partly a cyborg”. With these words, Elon Musk, founder of Neuralink, announces a future that is already here. In fact, in less than a year, you will be able to see the first brain-machine interface on a human being.
Musk announced it in a podcast held on May 7 with the American presenter Joe Rogan. This interface, which involves implanting a brain chip, could restore vision, functionality of the limbs and memory loss in affected people from many diseases.
Neuralink and the brain-computer interface of Elon Musk
Since 2016, Neuralink develops ultrathin elctrodes. They are inserted into the brain to stimulate neurons, the nerve cells. The current focus of Neuralink is the treatment of paralyzed patients with quadriplegia due to C1-C4 spinal cord injury.
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The Neuralink device could potentially restore deaf people ‘vision and sense of hearing. In case of severe epilepsy, it could detect it in real time and prevent it from occurring. There is an entire list of injuries (for example, those caused by a stroke) that could be repaired. Musk adds Neuralink will be able to help people with Alzheimer’s restore memory.
How is the intervention performed? It’s very simple. As Musk himself explained during the interview, it will be enough to make a hole of 7-14 millimeters diameter in the skull. Once you get to the brain, a chip will be inserted with very thin wires that will go to the exact desired point. This surgery will leave only a small scar.
Neuralink chips for the Elon Musk interface
According to a 2019 presentation, the company plans to implant four of its N1 chips in the cerebral cortex. One chip by the somatic sensory cortex and three chips by the motor areas. The wires connected to the chip are very small, as thin as a human hair, and will be inserted into the brain with machine’s laser precision, where they can stimulate neurons.
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The chips will also be connected to an inductive coil that connects to a battery located behind the ear to power the system. The final version of the Neuralink device will be accessible wirelessly, via a Bluetooth connection. Allow the user to control their cell phone or any computer system, including prostheses, with the brain.
Before long the way to experimentation on a human being
Last year it was announced that the chip had been successfully implanted and tested on a monkey and mice, thanks to work in collaboration with the University of California: “The results have been very positive”.
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According to Musk’s explanation in 2019, the brain has two systems: the first layer is the limbic system that drives the impulses. The second layer is the cortical system which tries to control the limbic system by acting as an intelligence layer. The third layer could be Neuralink, positioned above those two layers to work together. “Perhaps there may be a tertiary layer in which digital superintelligence is found. It will be much more intelligent than the cortex but will continue to coexist peacefully and benignly with the cortex and the limbic system,” he said.
We are not testing people yet, but I think it won’t be too long. We may be able to implant a Neuralink on a human being in less than a year
The dream besides medicine
The road, however, is still long. According to Musk, we will be able to communicate without words in less than 10 years or, in just over 25 years, to be able to create an entire brain interface, so that all the neurons of a person are connected to an extension.