Neuralink company was founded by Elon Musk in 2016. According to Musk, Neuralink is the answer to the threats he believes artificial intelligence poses to the human race. Neuralink is a technology that can help humans interact with machines using their brains. Elon Musk’s ambitious project involves connecting the human brain to the internet and enabling it to control machines. It is at the stage of being released for commercial use and is awaiting approval.
Since the official date of release of Neuralink hasn’t been confirmed, most of us are curious about what it is and how it will change the way humans will interact with machines. Not only that, Neuralink can push forward studies in the fields of neuroanatomy and neuroscience in the coming years.
The concept behind Neuralink
In many ways, humans have become cyborgs (cybernetic organisms) if we think, because our smartphone is like an extension of us, like a limb. The problem is the communication bandwidth to the phone is too slow. It's a speed issue. We're getting the information to our brains too slowly and are thus, not sending it out fast enough. You need something artificial in your brain to help with this process.
What is Neuralink?
Neuralink is a device that will be surgically implanted into the brain. With it, humans will be able to communicate with machines and can even control them.
Neuralink connects the human brain to computers through a chipset smaller than a penny. This chipset, called N1 chipset, will be installed in your skull which is 8mm in diameter and has multiple electrode wires with insulation. It is inserted into the brain by drilling a small hole through the skull. This could be as simple as a LASIK procedure later in the future.
Implantation and Working of Neuralink
Robots are designed specifically for this job. These robots create an incision in the skull to implant the device, ensuring extreme precision. The chipset is connected to the brain through 1,000 thin, tiny wires that are ten times thinner than human hair. The company affirms that these wires are flexible enough not to damage brain tissue.
Other neurosurgical procedures such as deep brain stimulation which is used to treat Parkinson's insert much larger wires which carry more risks such as strokes. So what makes Neuralink an exception? How does the Neuralink device work? Does it really enhance your brain?
Our brain is made up of more than 100 billion neurons. The neurons come together to form a large network through synapses. At these connection points, neurons pass chemical signals to each other called neurotransmitters. Everything you see, hear, taste, smell, feel are just these neurons firing or what's called an action potential. This is where the Neuralink comes in.
The wires on the chip carry electrodes. The electrodes record the signals produced by the action potential and send them to an external device worn behind the ear. The device is again controlled by an app. So the electrodes basically read what is happening inside the brain and repair any broken circuits. The electrodes stimulate as many neurons as possible in orders of magnitude greater than what's ever been done before to increase the capabilities of our brain. This will be life-changing for people suffering from brain disorders.
Neuralink company says it will help people who are paralyzed to move, allow those who are blind to see, treat Alzheimer's, cure epilepsy, and a lot. Elon once said that Neuralink could, in principle, fix anything that is wrong with the brain and that the device could be implanted into someone as part of a trial. It has already been tested on a monkey and a rat. Astonishingly, during the animal trial, the monkey had been able to control a computer with his brain. Just FYI!
Neuralink is designed on the shoulders of other implant technologies. Even though Neuralink is focused on treating brain injuries, for now, that is just the beginning for the company. There will be updated versions of Neuralink that could perform a lot than we ever expected. Just like how a software update works for your computer, where the latest version comes with newer features and is capable of so much more.
Things you can do with a Neuralink device in future
Elon says that humans will be able to recall everything like moments in life and play it back like a movie. We'll have a memory of superhumans. You might never need to learn a language or want someone to assist you if you travel to a foreign country. You could simply download a program from your mind and speak in that language. In fact, you wouldn't need to speak at all. Yes. You can easily communicate with people without speaking if you both have the implant. This is called telepathic communication.
He admits that telepathic communication could happen in as little as five to ten years. Neuralink is just one of the many companies that think about brain-machine interfaces. The ultimate goal of Neuralink is to achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence. Symbiosis is a mutually beneficial relationship between two parties in the natural world. In this context, it describes the way humans and AI can develop and evolve together. So, in a way, Neuralink does not scrape off humanity with this whole idea of merging AI with humans. But the merging with AI might come with dangers.
Risks associated with Neuralink becoming Reality:
When your computer gets hacked, that may not be a huge problem. But, when it comes to your brain, that's a bigger issue. Scientists have been urging governments to address what data should be collected, how data will be kept safe. It’s important to see how citizens can opt-out of having their data shared as a default. Neuralink products will have to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The approval is not easy to get. Meanwhile, Neuralink’s competitor Synchron (a small neurotech startup) received the green light from FDA in 2020.
If Neuralink is also approved, then it can change your lives in the way the internet has connected the world, in the way airplanes have allowed us to travel, in the way medicine has cured diseases. We’d be looking at the world now and thinking how lucky we're to live in this day and age, that two decades ago, none of us could have possibly imagined. Yet two decades from now, people will think how far behind we were a few years ago.
Over the past years, if the Netflix series Black Mirror has taught us anything it’s that you don’t mess with AI. In the future, Neuralink may become a bridge that connects human beings to the next level of artificial intelligence, yet there will be objections. Many people will have reservations about implementing a chipset inside the brain externally. As discussed earlier, this technology has not been tested on humans yet. The first live specimens to have undergone a trial are a rat, a monkey, and a pig.
Even after getting official approval and extreme security assurance to protect the right to privacy, there still are many concerns. What if the device is connected to the internet how will we be protected against hackers who might try to steal data directly from our brains. And what’s stopping someone from spying on my thoughts through the device? We still need a lot of clarity before we finally acknowledge the existence of such devices.