The human brain is basically an organic computer inside our heads. Completely unique and mysterious, the brain is the hardware that processes both external and internal information, stores it, and later recalls the information in order to utilize it for decision-making and future planning. It is the motherboard that controls everything that is “you”, from your physical body and movements, to your innermost thoughts and emotions. This is done through the use of compartmentalized systems, or individual components built into the structures of your brain, each of which is responsible for carrying out certain functionalities. The main two are the limbic and the cortex systems. The former is in charge of our emotions and the latter is responsible for thinking and planning. Whenever it reaches its final form, Elon Musk’s invention “Nueralink” aims to be the third layer of cognition.
Added Brain Power
What many don’t fully realize is that this third, artificial layer already exists, and is already used by the majority of people on Earth: our smartphones and tablets. These tools allow us to extend the power of our minds. They allow for nearly anyone and everyone to access more knowledge than humans have ever been able to so easily obtain before in our history. One issue with these devices is their form of user interface. In order to utilize this vast wealth of knowledge, you must first enter a sequence of commands in the right order (i.e. unlocking device, navigating to browser/app, typing the knowledge you seek, etc.). This is a slow and strenuous process when compared to, say, the speed and ease of our thoughts.
That is where the concept of Neuralink was born. What if our smart devices adopted the same user interface as used by our brains? Any information available on the internet could be queried by simply thinking about the question; any text, call, calendar appointment, Instagram post, anything in the realm of smart devices, would be available at the speed of cognition. This is called the Brain-Machine Interface (BMI). This concept is not a new one, but Neuralink is the closest that we’ve been thus far.
Smart Device, Relocated
The way Neuralink achieves the BMI isn’t through magic; there is still the need for a physical device. This device, however, is meant to live in your head and connects to your brain via wires. The main body of the device is about the diameter of a quarter, and around 8mm thick. This thickness is very intentional, as it is meant to replace a small piece of your skull (human skulls are around 10mm thick). The wires must be implanted with extreme precision, and are so thin, that the surgery to hook them into your brain is carried out by an autonomous robotic surgeon, removing human error from the process.
The device must be charged, which happens via a magnetic induction charger, similar to how most smartwatches are charged. Other than that, the Neuralink is fully concealed from the outside world. Since it is implanted flush with the skull, and underneath the skin and hair, it is fully invisible.
More than Knowledge
The knowledge based abilities would be extremely useful to nearly everyone in the world. The main purpose of Neuralink however is to solve medical issues that are currently incurable (brain injuries, spinal cord damage, etc.). This would make Neuralink an invaluable asset to humans.
Every new product, especially those meant to be used by humans, and ESPECIALLY those meant to be implanted into human heads, must be tested and experimented with extensively before the general public has access. The first of these experiments that took place in the head of a living animal involved pigs. The pigs were implanted with Neuralink, and the wires were implanted into very specific portions of their brains, specifically the part that receives input from the pigs’ snouts. When the pigs would smell and eat straw, a monitor would graph the brain activity.
The next live animal experiment was carried out on monkeys. This time, the power of Neuralink was pushed further than with the pigs. This allowed the monkey test subjects to play the video game “Pong” without any external controller. In other words, they controlled the game pieces’ movements using nothing but their thoughts. The Neuralink team has already applied for human testing.
Neuralink will be revolutionary. That could either be for the betterment of mankind, or it could lead to our demise in a number of ways. According to its founder, Musk, it may allow us to combat or even prevent the possibility of a hostile AI takeover in the future. Nevertheless Neuralink will change the way we live, and its reach will extend to most if not all aspects of our lives. Now, we wait.
FURTHER READINGhttps://neuralink.com/- Clifford, C. (2020, December 11). Elon Musk’s brain-computer interface company Neuralink has money and buzz, but hurdles too. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/05/elon-musks-neuralink-bold-ideas-hurdles.html- Regalado, A. (2020, August 30). Elon Musk’s Neuralink is neuroscience theater. MIT Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/08/30/1007786/elon-musks-neuralink-demo-update-neuroscience-theater/- Reuters. (2021, April 10). Elon Musk’s Neuralink shows monkey with brain-chip playing videogame by thinking. https://www.reuters.com/technology/elon-musks-neuralink-shows-monkey-with-brain-chip-playing-videogame-by-thinking-2021-04-09/- Wetsman, N. (2020, August 29). Elon Musk trots out pigs in demo of Neuralink brain implants. The Verge. https://www.theverge.com/2020/8/28/21406143/elon-musk-neuralink-ai-pigs-demo-brain-computer-interface- Wong, J. C. (2020, August 29). Neuralink: Elon Musk unveils pig he claims has computer implant in brain. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/aug/28/neuralink-elon-musk-pig-computer-implant