Neuralink, a company that aims is to achieve a brain-computer interface, revealed what it has been developing, for the first time. The venture is led by Elon Musk and intends to make inserting a computer connection into your brain ‘as safe and painless as a ‘Lasik eye surgery’. On Tuesday, Musk revealed about the baby steps that the company has taken for realizing this purpose.
Musk said in a presentation that his company is developing “ultra-high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers.” The billionaire CEO of Tesla and SpaceX has expressed his concerns regarding the rapidly evolving field of artificial intelligence and that humans might be ‘left behind’ by this development. That is why he seeks to diminish this gap between AI and human by conceiving a brain-computer interface.
Neuralink said that it has developed a way of inserting electrodes in the brain using tiny threads that connect to a chip implanted in the skull. These ‘threads’ resemble a string of pearls. The company claims that the threads don’t cause any damage to the neighboring neural tissues and endure degradation.
As per a Verge report, Neuralink is currently using a USB-C type wire to transmit data from the custom chip it has created but ultimately the company aims to create a system that can transmit data wirelessly. The threads have a width of 4 to 6 micrometers, which is much thinner than the dimensions of a human hair strand. These threads will be carrying dozens of tiny electrodes.
Neuralink is currently focusing on patients with severe neurological conditions like paralysis and tests are being carried out on rodents. According to Neuralink President Max Hodak, the company will seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to start clinical trials on humans as early as next year. Their initial aim is to implant these threads inside the brains of paralyzed patients giving them the ability to connect to devices like smartphones and computers to enable communication. Hoadk told Bloomberg that for now he’s focused on helping patients suffering from paralysis, and the goal is typing 40 words per minute.
To perform this delicate operation the company has created a robot that uses high-end optics to peer into holes drilled in the skull and then place the wires precisely, according to a Bloomberg report. The catch is drilling a hole is deeply unpleasant due to the mechanical vibrations that it causes. The company seeks to advance this procedure by substituting it soon with a laser drill. Also, using a laser drill will create smaller holes just enough for the threads to pass through.
According to a NY Times report, the company plans to work with neurosurgeons at Stanford University and possibly other institutions to conduct early experiments.
“This is going to sound pretty weird, but ultimately, we will achieve symbiosis with artificial intelligence,” Musk said on Tuesday. The company has 100 employees and has raised $158 million out of which at least $100 million are from Musk. Musk is betting millions to “achieve symbiosis with artificial intelligence.”