Creation date: 2019-07-17
Today my brain woke up at 4:30am because it knew that something special would happen. No alarm clock used and no one needed. My brain was extremely excited about the Neuralink live stream scheduled for 5am CEST (8pm PT) which you can see on YouTube:
Unfortunately the scheduling was done in Elontime so it started around 5:50am for me. Anyway, let's get started.
Neuralink is a company which wants to build a high bandwidth brain machine interface (BMI). The main goals is to help patients with epilepsy, parkinson, blindness and other types of handicaps. Regarding blindness the brain can process visual information just fine but the input connection is broken. If the right neurons can be stimulated the patients can regain vision using a camera. Before Neuralink, the state of the art system for brain machine interfaces was either very invasive or the resolution was not on a single neuron level like using EEG.
The goals mentioned in their live stream: (1:41:43 in the live stream)
Increase by orders of magnitude the number of neurons you can read from and write to in safe, long-lasting ways
At each stage, produce devices that serve critical unmet medical needs for patients
Make it as simple and automated as LASIK
Further down the road Elon Musk plans a symbiosis between humans and AI. His thinking is similar to: If we are able to build general artificial intelligence it's better to be part of the progress.
They have invented electrodes that can read the signal of single neurons and can also write which means stimulate single neurons. That means it can not only be used to move artificial limbs, mouse cursors or write by brain reading but also insert information like needed for restore vision for the blind.
Neuralink built a "sewing machine" as described in a paper on bioarxiv to insert the so called threads of 32 electrodes into the brain without opening the skull. Edit: They make a small "painless opening through the skull" as explained by Matt McDougall in the video.
It can insert up to 6 threads so 192 electrodes in a minute using an auto-insertion mode but a surgeon has always full control. The electrodes are connected to a small device sitting near the ear of a patient which translates the spikes into reasonable information. That device is connected wireless to an iPhone which controls the process. It will be used to train the system such that you can click a button to learn a movement like moving a mouse cursor up and then you have to think it and the device will attack your spiking pattern to the desired action. (That's how I imagine it at least)
Added: This will be a hard part of training the patient to work with the interface to be able to match the thinking pattern to the desired action. There is also a low signal to noise ratio as electrodes will read spikes from nearby neurons as well. Unfortunately this isn't talked a lot about in the presentation.
In the Q&A session at the end of the presentation Elon Musk mentioned that a monkey was able to control a computer via their Neuralink interface. Unfortunately no video or paper is available for this yet.
This is only a small introduction to Neuralink the following links will keep you fully up to date.
You can read the details in their White Paper published today and of course having a look at the YouTube video.
If you want to read more about Neuralink and their mission to build a high bandwidth brain machine interface please read the blog article from 2 years ago by WaitButWhy
As for every advancement in technology there are upsides and downsides. Do we want to be cyborgs? How safe is it? Can hacker get access and insert something into your brain? I think everyone has her own opinion about it. I for myself find it an interesting process in the right step for helping patients and I'm interested in psychology and neuroscience and neuromorphic computing as you can see in my last blog post. I think the controversy is mostly about writing/stimulating the brain which of course has it's upsides as well and is a reasonable step if we have an electrode in the brain why not using it for writing?
If we focus on reading I think getting data from the electrodes will help humanity to further understand the human brain and therefore will be a big step forward in neuroscience and it will help building neuromorphic computing chips. If we gain knowledge about the brain it will help us in many ways and I think it's one goal of human being to understand how we think.
What do you think about Neuralink and their advancements?
Thanks for reading!
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