Year 2020 has just progressed 65% so far and we have witnessed so many strange, heart-breaking, unprecedented things in just matter of months. But such uncertain times always mould humans to come out strong and with greater will. Among all of these bad news, there are still some stories which hit the right chords. One of them is announcement made by Elon Musk on 28th August 2020, for his just-another-thought-converted-to-startup, Neuralink.
Product – The Link
When Elon launched Neuralink back in 2016, although it was made public in 2017, everyone knew he would do something amazing within a short period of time. This wasn’t the first demo Neuralink has shown but the product they have built (v0.9) certainly has real life application possibilities. He has that unusual ability to iterate and ship fast, just like this humongous space vehicle – Starship.
Neuralink has developed a coin sized implant, which will replace part of your skull, yes. They call it Link and it looks like this.
The circular enclosure contains all the electronics and it has 1024 electrodes for connection with brain. It obviously has a battery which can be charged via inductive charging ( thought of being Neo? 😁). It has multiple chips and sensors for on-board computation and it could possibly run algorithms to detect, process the data. Details of the electronics are not yet available.
These 1024 threads will be inserted in the outer layer of cortex of brain. They are 43mm in length so those are not too tight and not too loose and can support pulsating movements of brain. These threads will carry current to and from neurons which are essentially special cells which can be triggered by very small amount of electrical current. You can call these threads as I/O pins connected to brain. Yes, Link can not only read but will be able to write into your brain.
As claimed by the engineers, the packaging will be able to absorb external forces and pressure. As their micro-fabrication engineers claimed, it can also withstand internal threats to electronics from body such as temperature, fluids etc.
It transmits data wirelessly to the receiver. A mobile app can be used to read the signals generating from it. In future they are planning to develop an implant which can go deeper inside and can reach important areas such as motor control.
How it will be implanted ?
The Musk’s way of doing things is minimum human intervention. They have built a robot which was sharing stage with Elon in presentation. V2 of robot looks much more improved than last year’s version.
This robot will do the surgery to install the Link in your brain all on its own. You just have to walk in to the hospital (for now it is hospital but I can already imagine Apple like store for this), sit on chair, put your head in the place. Robot will cut your skin, drill a hole in the skull, remove the bone, insert threads in brain, fix implant their with superglue, close the hole by sewing everything back. All this will be done without using general anaesthesia and you will be able to walk home in an hour.
This is precisely why they made a robot, it drastically reduces the time required to carry out the surgery by a surgeon and added advantage is accuracy. It increases customer satisfaction and make it one hassle-free experience.
But what if you had installed it and you no longer need it or want to get an upgrade. Well, implant can be removed and you can have a new one in future. You can also have multiple Links installed at the same time.
They are testing on animals and were able to predict the movements of limbs by tracking the signals generated from specific neurons and predictions were close match.
Elon calls all the problems such as spinal, motor control, blindness, deafness as electrical failures. So to fix an electrical problem you need electrical solution. So let’s see what this means.
- Motor Control
Consider a person who has lost a control of a hand, if he gets an implant, it will detect movement signals from neurons which are failing to reach the hand, and he will be able to move it probably with the help of some more hardware if required. This is really a breakthrough in medical sciences.
The Link can also write to your brain which mean, if a blind person gets it, Link will be able to write the graphical data received from a camera to brain in the form of electrical signals to specific sections of brain which performs analysis of visual inputs from eyes and he will actually be able to see! Same goes for deafness with the help of a microphone. Imagine how big the impact will be on society.
- Spinal problems
Spinal injuries are often root cause of many problems. All these can essentially be solved with implant.
Link will help you to record your memories and you can store it into your hefty hard drives. And you can see those anytime if you are feeling low, you can enjoy your childhood again or see what your teacher taught at school or see your crush smiling at you as many times as you want.
If anyone looses memory then you can write it back to brain so no memory loss. How amazing that would be for elderly people.
- Health Predictions
Neuralink will be able to predict the health problems such as heart attack more precisely. And of course by feeding the data to external AI, there could be many other possible predictions which can save lives.
- Conceptual Telepathy
It can write to your brain, that can be applicable if two persons having an implant can do a sort of telepathy just by using thoughts. Musk called this as ‘Conceptual Telepathy’. So if you want to talk to your friend, you can just think about it and application in your phone linked with your implant can send that data across to your friend’s phone which will instruct implant to write thoughts to his brain.
- Visual Artistry
Now at this point we can’t teleport ourselves but when we close the eyes we can go virtually anywhere or imagine anything. But it is very hard to explain it to others what you are imagining. If you have The Link, you can fetch that visualization data from your brain and send it to a screen or VR for others to see. Imagine the use cases of this in manufacturing sector.
If this becomes possible then I believe you would be able to record your dreams as well.
- Military (inevitable)
Of course how can military maintain distance from such an awesome piece of technology which can essentially create super soldiers or even Terminators. A soldier can benefit from this as it will help him to minimize or forget pain for a temporary duration in case of any injury.
If it can give blind man a visual treat then it can also provide different types of visual inputs to a soldier like infrared, thermal and even X-Ray feed with using respective cameras and some extra hardware. Which can become very useful in the field.
What it means for developers?
Neuralink is already planning to launch the APIs for accessing the data. Developers can access the signals received from your brain and will be able to do more productive things with it. The possibilities are endless. When that data is fed to AI and ML algorithms we will be ushering into the new era of medical sciences which will transform how we see and use human healthcare.
Issues and Concerns
Anything can be hacked if not done right. Although engineers at Neuralink have mentioned they have taken care of security and privacy. But there could be many ways it can be exploited.
What if someone hacks the APIs and read from or write something to your brain without you knowing it? What if someone send signals bursts causing the device to heat and explode since it has a battery?
Concerns are many and Elon Musk will have to clarify these things before public launch. But if Neuralink makes it possible this will go down in history.