Long live the new flesh: Neuralink and the Musk effect.

Back in July, Elon Musk publicly spoke about his future developments plans for Neuralink which is described a “sewing machine-like” robot that can implant ultra-thin threads deep into the brain with the goal to connect it with computers.

The ability to capture and process information from a large number of cells has always been the main challenge and at the same time, the main objective of neural science in order to improve basic understanding of the brain and further develop studies on how to "repair it".

According to Shivon Zilis, Project Director at Neuralink, Mr. Musk has been actively involved in trying to help solve the engineering challenges that Neuralink faces. 

One of Neuralink’s distinguishing techniques according to Musk, is that it places flexible threads of electrodes in proximity to neurons, the tiny cells that are the basic building blocks of the brain. The threads are placed using thin needles, and two-photon computer system helps avoid blood vessels on the surface of the brain. The technique being used by Neuralink involves inserting a bundle of threads that are each about a quarter of the diameter of a human hair.

"It’s like a fitbit in your skull with tiny wires."

The main goal of this ambitious project is to resolve important spine & brain problems with a seamlessly implanted device.

It goes into the skull replacing a piece of it, it’s the size of a coin with a main core and wires.

The main core of the implant is a 23 x 8 mm and it fits right into the thickness of the skull and it’s inductively charged so you can used it all day and charge it at night.

You can have it implanted by a robot, the installation (see: surgery) of the link takes place in under an hour and without general anaesthesia. We want this robot to do the entire surgery from incision to placement and the electrodes are inserted very carefully, thanks to the brain imaging operated by the brain, there’s no bleeding.

It’s reversable, so you can have it removed and replaced in a way that won’t affect you.

In the demonstration Musk showcased different pigs were showcased to the audience:

1) One pig, Joyce, with no implant;

2) One pig, Dorothy, which was implanted with the Neuralink system and then was removed. This showed the reversibility of the process.

3) One pig, Gertrude, which was implanted with the Neuralink system two months earlier and was currently carrying it and the recording was showcased on a monitor.

The beats (*sounds) you're hearing are real-time signals from the Neuralink in Gertrude's head. This Neuralink in particular, according to Musk, connect to neurons that are in the (connected to?) snout so whenever she shuffle around and touches something with the snout, that sends out near spikes that are detected here. On the screen you can see the spikes of the electrodes.

The sounds that came out of it he reading of the brain activity where dots represents a neural spike and the blue chart at the bottom shows an accumulation of neural spikes in that region. 

Through the reading from the neurons is possible to predict the position of all of the limbs with very high accuracy. 

In terms of writing to the brain, the requirements are:

  • Precise control of electric field in time and space
  • Wide range of current for different brain regions
  • No harm to brain over time

The first clinical trial is aimed at people with tetraplegia or paraplegia, and overall at helping improve situations where severe spinal chord injury prevents control over limbs and facial muscle too. 

Long-term application would be to  that if you create a system able to predict precisely what somebody is trying to do with their muscles and their limbs, you can create a neural shot and restore somebody’s full body motion.

"In the future, you’ll be able to save and replay memories?" One journalist asked. 

Yes, I think in the future you'll be able to sae and replay memories.  

“This is obviously sounding increasingly like a Black Mirror episode but well, I guess they’re pretty good at predicting.”

Availability and pricing.

According to Musk at first the system is going to be quite expensive but it will quickly drop. We want to ge the cost as low as possible, inclusive of the automated surgery, we want to the price down to a few thousand dollars. The device itself is not very expensive because it uses a lots of the parts that are made in extremely high-volumes for smart phones, smart watches and wearables i n general.

The goal is to get it as accessible as the Lasek eye surgery.

Elon Musk image credit: Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images

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