on March 18th, 2024

Billionaire technologist, Elon Musk founded a start-up called Neuralink in 2016. Neuralink’s aim and objectives are to mesh human brains with Artificial Intelligence (AI). Now, in early 2024, Neuralink has implanted its first brain chip in a human. Who is he? Where is he? And how is he doing? But first, what is Neuralink?  

What is Neuralink All About?  

Musk stated that Neuralink aims to help those with paralysis. In the efforts of using a simple thought to control devices, he hoped that the chip would allow people who are paralyzed to eventually use their limbs.  

Should this technology prove effective in human subjects, it can enhance the lives of millions.  

“The idea is that these threads will read signals from a paralyzed patient’s brain and transmit that data to an iPhone or computer, enabling the patient to control it with just their thoughts — no need to tap or type or swipe,” said Sigal Samuel on Vox.  

In the United States alone, approximately 5.4 million individuals (about twice the population of Arkansas) live with paralysis.  

Musk said the first product from the company would be called Telepathy. Meaning that the patient with the implant will be able to control devices with his mind.  

“The Neuralink chip can restore pathways from the brain to the body. As mentioned above, the main chip could communicate with a chip below the injured spinal cord section to allow people who are paralyzed to walk again,” said Blue Badge Insurance Australia.  

He claimed that this was his aim from the onset of Neuralink, but there was a bigger picture.  

The Race Against AI  

Musk believed that humans were not keeping up with AI, so he had to create a chip that would keep up with AI or hopefully beat it.  

This pursuit is driven by a desire to ensure humans remain relevant and not surpassed as AI advances in sophistication. 

But why does Musk want us to race against AI?  

In March 2023, Musk and several others signed an open letter advocating for a six-month halt in the development of AI systems surpassing the capabilities of OpenAI’s GPT-4.  

The letter cautioned against the potential risks posed by AI systems possessing intelligence comparable to humans, raising concerns about the possibility of nonhuman minds outnumbering, outsmarting, and ultimately replacing humans. It questioned whether such advancements risked the loss of control over civilization. 

“If you can’t beat em, join em, Neuralink mission statement,” said Musk on X.  

There are a multitude of challenges associated with AI that we encounter in our daily lives. These encompass a wide spectrum, ranging from concerns such as safeguarding consumer privacy and addressing biases in programming, to ensuring the safety of humans and navigating the complexities of legal regulations.  

However, it’s important to recognize that not all AI-related risks are as sensationalized as depictions of killer robots or scenarios involving sentient AI (as of right now).  

These more immediate concerns highlight the intricate intersection between technology and society, urging us to adopt a nuanced approach to addressing them. 

Elon Musk with an AI robot

Eventually, we can expect AI to be fully integrated into our daily lives. An article on Medium suggests, “AI will work alongside humans to augment our capabilities. We’ll see AI assisting in creative tasks, research, and decision-making processes. 

However, the “dangerous” side of AI, is still being talked about among scientists, engineers, and researchers.  

In recent months, numerous researchers and computer scientists engaged in AI development have raised significant concerns regarding its potential dangers.  

Some have even suggested that AI could pose an existential threat to humanity. Paul Christiano, formerly associated with OpenAI, starkly articulated this sentiment, stating, “If, God forbid, they were trying to kill us, they will definitely kill us.” 

With all of this in mind, Musk created Neuralink to combat this foreseen battle and “save” humanity.  

In a 2018 appearance on the “Joe Rogan Experience (a podcast hosted by American comedian, presenter, and UFC color commentator Joe Rogan),” Musk said this technology could eventually allow humans to upload themselves into new units if their biological selves die, essentially achieving immortality.” 

Musk has remarked that people’s reliance on their smartphones essentially renders them cyborgs, yet he believes there is still room for improvement in intelligence.  

He highlights the sluggish exchange of information between our biological and digital selves as a limiting factor. Neuralink, a company founded by Musk, endeavors to address this issue by developing brain-machine interfaces to establish a direct communication channel between the human brain and computers. 

“Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer. That is the goal,” said Musk on X.  

The Chip  

The Neuralink device, equipped with 1,024 electrodes, serves as a brain implant capable of capturing signals from numerous neurons, the nerve cells that send messages all over the body to drive nearly all human functions.  

Increased electrode count enables a broader neural data capture, leading to better insights. Moreover, proximity to neurons enhances data quality significantly. 

Neuralink achieves remarkable proximity to neurons through a procedure involving drilling a hole in the skull and penetrating the brain. However, alternative, less invasive methods are being explored by other companies, showcasing different approaches to achieving similar goals. 

Undergoing an implant procedure entails various risks, including common surgical complications like excessive bleeding or infection.  

However, there are also unique risks associated with brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). For instance, the brain stimulation involved in BCIs may induce epileptiform activity (spikes, sharp waves, or spike-and-wave complexes), potentially leading to epilepsy or epileptic seizures. 

However, Musk shared on 30 January 2024, “The first human received an implant from @Neuralink yesterday and is recovering well. Initial results show promising neuron spike detection.” 

The coin sized Neuralink device incorporates an advanced custom chip within the implant to process neural signals. These signals are then transmitted to a digital device via a standard Bluetooth connection, marking a significant advancement in BCI technology. 

Moreover, “The N1 Implant is powered by a small battery charged wirelessly from the outside via a compact, inductive charger that enables easy use from anywhere,” the company says on its website. 

“I could have a Neuralink right now and you wouldn’t know,” said Musk.  

Neuralink has yet to disclose the pricing details for its implant. However, Bloomberg has estimated the cost to be around $10,500 (approximately AUD15872,11), with suggestions that insurance companies in the US could ultimately be billed $40,000 (AUD60465,20) for the procedure. 

To achieve precise electrode placement, surgical robots intricately weave these threads into the cerebral cortex. This brain region governs higher-level processes such as learning and emotion. This meticulous approach ensures optimal functionality and safety of the implant. 

Why Surgical Robots and Not Humans?  

Elon Musk's Neuralink surgical robot
Elon Musk with co-created surgical robot

The complexity of the surgery necessitates a level of precision beyond human capability, leading Musk and Woke Studio to develop a surgical robot for the procedure.  

The surgical robot, created by San Francisco-based industrial design firm Woke Studio, showcases a rounded polycarbonate sci-fi aesthetic reminiscent of the Portal franchise.  

While Neuralink’s engineers and scientists led the technology development, Woke Studio focused on shaping the robot’s appearance, user experience, and the communication end piece worn behind the ear, as demonstrated in previous Neuralink presentations. 

In a press release, Woke stated, “Despite the patient not directly witnessing the robot’s operation, it was crucial to design a non-intimidating machine that aesthetically complements Musk’s iconic creations. Additionally, it needed to adhere strictly to medical standards for sterility and maintenance, ensuring safe and seamless operation for its operators.” 

“You can go to the hospital in the morning and leave by afternoNeuralink’s robot boasts a sleek white design, chosen for sterility reasons according to Woke’s specifications. With its smooth lines and polished surfaces, the robot embodies advanced technical prowess while incorporating calming and approachable elements—a strategic decision given its intended function. on. And it can be done without general anesthesia,” said Musk at the Neuralink event in 2020.  

Who Is the Patient and Where Is He Now?  

Unfortunately, Musk or Neuralink hasn’t revealed any personal information about the first-ever patient who underwent surgery in January this year.  

The only information available is that he was previously paralyzed, but now has reached full recovery and can manipulate a mouse. 

The Future with Neuralink  

The first implant marks a significant milestone for Neuralink, which has encountered regulatory obstacles due to safety concerns, placing it among several companies—such as Blackrock Neurotech and Synchron, that have conducted trials of brain implants in humans.  

Musk, whose expansive business portfolio includes Tesla, SpaceX, and X, has been credited with revitalizing interest in the long-standing field of BCI, often hyping its potential to enhance human function on a broader scale. 

Neuralink’s website articulates its ambition to develop technology aimed at “restoring autonomy to those with unmet medical needs today and unlocking human potential tomorrow.”  

However, the company has encountered challenges that have raised doubts among critics regarding its objectives. In November last year, four US lawmakers urged the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether Musk misled investors about the safety of his brain implant, following reports indicating adverse health effects observed in monkeys during experiments, as reported by Reuters. 

When Neuralink announced approval for human trials last May, Ryan Merkley, director of research advocacy at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, remarked that if Musk “cared about the health of patients, he would invest in a noninvasive BCI.”  

However, the US Food and Drug Administration gave Neuralink clearance to conduct its first trial to test its implant on humans.  

And concerning AI, well Musk stated at the SXSW conference, “The danger of AI is much greater than the danger of nuclear warheads by a lot… Mark my words. AI is far more dangerous than nukes.”  

“The future is going to be weird.” 

References  

Elon Musk Says Neuralink Is The Only Way To Survive And Compete With AI 

Neuralink has put its first chip in a human brain. What could possibly go wrong? 

X 

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