Elon Musk’s brain-machine interface company, Neuralink, has an event scheduled for later this week to update the public on its progress since last year’s presentation. While the agenda is speculative for the most part, one expectation is a live demonstration of neuron activity.
“Will show neurons firing in real-time on August 28th. The matrix in the matrix,” Musk tweeted at the end of July.
He also revealed a few other clues about the early fall announcement at the beginning of the year. “Wait until you see the next version vs what was presented last year. It’s *awesome*,” he wrote in February. “The profound impact of high bandwidth, high precision neural interfaces is underappreciated. Neuralink may have this in a human as soon as this year. Just needs to be unequivocally better than Utah Array, which is already in some humans & has severe drawbacks.”
As its name implies, the roles of neuron activities are very important to Neuralink’s technology. The venture’s long-term goal of obtaining human symbiosis with artificial intelligence (AI) begins by connecting electrodes throughout the brain and reading its neuron signals en masse. Gathering huge amounts of data from the signals gradually teaches Neuralink’s software how they are used by the brain to communicate with the rest of the body, ultimately leading to a certain amount of replication and direction. The possibilities of such a capability seem endless.
Musk has hinted at some of the health-focused capabilities Neuralink’s technology could develop, specifically in individuals who are neurologically compromised. Installation of a chip replacing a small portion of the human skull, for instance, could restore limb function, improve human movement, resolve issues with eyesight and hearing, and help with diseases like Parkinson’s. There is also the possibility that the implementation of a Neuralink device into a brain could pave the way for hindering brain issues like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and strokes.
One of Neuralink’s inventions already revealed is a surgical robot for inserting electrodes into the brain. The devices are connected by flexible “threads” measuring between 4 and 6 μm or, about 1/3 the diameter of human hair, capable of transferring high volumes of data from the brain. The design has been tested on at least 19 different animals with robots with around an 87% success rate, according to the venture’s presentation last year. Human trials are possibly on the schedule for 2020, and this aspect may be part of Friday’s update.
Neuralink released a white paper in 2019 and currently has four published patent applications, all which expand on the particulars of the technology already revealed.
While the medical possibilities of Neuralink’s work are incredible on their own, Musk’s involvement was initiated by a desire to help humans keep up with AI. “I don’t love the idea of being [a computer’s] house cat, but what’s the solution? I think one of the solutions that seems maybe the best is to add an AI layer,” he half-joked at Code Conference 2016. Hopefully, the next presentation will provide some insight about Neuralink’s progress in that direction as well, even if it’s still purely hypothetical.