Elon Musk, the CEO of companies like Tesla and The Boring Company, is a busy man. One of his (many) side projects is Neuralink, a company that is creating technology that can directly interface with users’ minds.
Back in April, the company released a video that purported to show a monkey using his brain to play the classic video game Pong. The monkey in question is named Pager and had only been implanted with the control chip roughly six weeks before the test seen in the video. As a way to convince Pager to use his mental control of the computer system, he is given a taste of banana smoothie through a tube whenever he successfully completes tasks on the computer.
In the experiment, the researchers begin with the joystick hooked up to the game. Pager controls the paddle as normal while the scientists record the signals his brain sends while controlling the paddle. Then, the joystick is unplugged, and the Neuralink chip is used to control the game instead, using the pattern observed when the joystick was plugged in.
The implications of this technology are as exciting as they are frightening. For one thing, if the video is real, then it means that the company has figured out how to interpret signals from the brain using computer chips. If this kind of technology is perfected, it could allow for a whole host of new options for humanity.
Musk himself has stated in the past that the first goal of Neuralink is to equip paralyzed people with chips so they can use a smartphone or computer. In a Tweet, Musk asserts that Neuralink will allow someone using their mind to navigate a smartphone’s menus faster than someone using their thumbs.
Extrapolating this tech out into other practical applications could be used to give people with prosthetics full control over robotic limbs. This theoretical technology would be different than the kinds of robotic prosthetics that are already available, as most of these use the nerves at the end of the remaining limb to control the robotic component.
Neuralink, instead, would use a chip inside of the user’s brain to pick up the brainwave patterns of someone using the limb like it was their own. Such an advancement would be life-changing for people who have had limbs amputated.
Every new advance in technology comes with reservations from people who can see negative outcomes. The ramifications of mechanical limbs that are stronger than their biological counterparts have been explored in fiction by many authors. What do you do if someone has a prosthetic they use to commit a crime? What if the chip malfunctions and the person hurts someone with their prosthetic?
Some authors have contended, however, that the benefits of helping people walk and move again could outweigh the dangers inherent with this kind of technology. For Neuralink’s part, the most impressive thing about their technology is that it works wirelessly, according to some experts.
For instance, Professor Andrew Jackson, a neuroscience professor at Newcastle University, explained to Insider that “What is definitely new and innovative is that there are no cables coming through the skin, and the brain signals are all being sent wirelessly.
“This to me is the advance here, and is important both for improving the safety of human applications (wires through the skin are a potential route for infection) and also as a way of improving the welfare of animals used in neuroscience studies. The Neuralink team has definitely made progress in this regard.”