By Sean Jackson - @SeanJackson0512
Last week, Subverse took a look into what Elon Musk was doing with his brain-computer interface (BCI) company Neuralink. Earlier this week the business magnate presented more information on the product, the timeline for surgery on humans, as well as more details on how they would be achieving such a feat.
The brain-machine interface (BMI) presented by Musk late Tuesday night showed an iteration on the initial concept of utilizing neural lace, a synthetic netting that is placed over the brain. The initial concept, an invasive procedure of inserting threads directly into the brain, was chosen out of three prototypes. The chip presented allows for the threads to transmit signals from the brain to a USB-C port, and Bluetooth technology. The goal is an interface that connects to wires and is neatly tucked behind the ear like a hearing aid.
Musk hopes to begin human trials in 2020, specifically on patients who have physical disabilities and paralysis with hopes to utilize the technology for ‘thought-to-text’. Leigh Hochberg, a professor at Brown University called the update, “novel and exciting,” and stated in an interview with Scientific American that, “Given the great potential that intracortical brain-computer interfaces have to restore neurologic function for people with spinal cord injury, stroke [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis], traumatic brain injury, or other diseases or injuries of the nervous system, I’m excited to see how [the company will] be translating [its] system toward initial clinical studies.”
According to Musk, the BMI would feature a high-bandwidth system that distributes 3,072 electrodes per array, across 96 threads. This allows for a single USB-C cable to, “provide[s] full-bandwidth data streaming from the device, recording from all channels simultaneously.”
The three-hour event highlighted Neuralink scientists working on the projects, and visual representation of how the procedure would be carried out. The presentation included visuals of microscopic needles implanting wires that are about 1/10th roughly of the cross sectional area of a human hair into the brain, as well as how the procedure will be done specifically to minimize the risk of brain damage. A surgical robot will carry out the microscopic work during the Neuralink procedure, and Musk stated in the presentation that over time, the process will become “as simple as laser-eye surgery.”
The device will collect neural impulses from neurons in the brain, and certain action potentials will transmit data between the brain and the device for retrieval of information. These action potentials will be hard coded to be able to retrieve data based upon classification of what each action potential means.
Musk began the endeavor to build Neuralink in 2017, and has cited his desire to create symbiosis with A.I. as a driving force behind why the company exists. “We are rapidly headed towards digital super intelligence that far exceeds any human,” Musk stated in documentary ‘Do You Trust This Computer?’, “The pattern here is that A.I. might take a little while to wrap its tentacles around a new skill, but when it does it is unstoppable.”
In response to Musk’s gravity towards this potential outcome, his desire to help human cognition match that of A.I. began with a hope to mitigate any potential threat to the existence of humanity. Musk has been an ardent voice speaking about the potential dystopian future of A.I. in the technology community and with the government.
While on Axios, Musk outlined the potential detriment of super smart A.I., stating, “As the algorithms and hardware improve, that digital intelligence will exceed biological intelligence by a substantial margin.”
The target set by Neuralink is an ambitious one, and the project still needs to proper approval given by the FDA. While the goal for the future is to increase human cognitive function it is uncertain whether the initial offering from Neuralink will provide such capacity.