Neuralink Explained: How We Will Talk To Machines Using Our Brain

Neuralink is a technology that can help humans interact with machines using their brains.

Published24 Jul 2020, 08:03 AM IST
Explainers
7 min read
Snapshot

Elon Musk’s ambitious project of connecting the human brain to the internet to help control machines is almost at the stage of being released for commercial use.

More prominently known as Neuralink, the company will disclose more updates about the project on 28 August which will give us an insight on when we can expect the technology to rolled out and some more news on how it will be used.

Since Musk hasn’t officially confirmed a release date for Neuralink I am sure many of you are curious about what it is and how it will change the way humans will interact with machines.

Not only that, Neuralink could push forward studies in fields of neuroanatomy and neuroscience by years.

So let’s take a look at what Nueralink is all about.

Neuralink Explained: How We Will Talk To Machines Using Our Brain

  1. 1. What Is Neuralink?

    Neuralink is a device that will be surgically implanted into your brain and with it, you’ll be able to communicate with machines and even control them.

    It will also help study the electrical signals in the brain and arrive at solutions that can help cure various medical problems.

    How the data transfer will take place on Neuralink.
    How the data transfer will take place on Neuralink.
    (Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

    The company was founded in 2016 and has been working in developing this technology ever since.

    According to Elon Musk, the team is optimistic of introducing the technology by the end of 2020, although human trials have not yet started.

    With Neuralink a chipset, called N1 chipset, will be installed in your skull which is 8mm in diameter and has multiple wires housing electrodes and insulation for the wires.

    The size of a Neuralink link chip compared to the little finger of the hand. 
    The size of a Neuralink link chip compared to the little finger of the hand. 
    (Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

    These wires will be surgically placed inside your brain using a robot. As per the company, the wire is as thick as the neurons in your brain and thinner than a strand of hair at 100 micrometres. To compare, imagine the diameter of your hair, and then divide that diameter by ten.

    You can place more than one device inside your skull.
    You can place more than one device inside your skull.
    (Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

    Max Hodak, the president of Nueuralink, says that you can place more than one device to target different sections of your brain.

    Expand
  2. 2. How Does Neuralink Work?

    Have you seen the Hollywood action flick The Matrix? Remember the scene where Neo (played by Keanu Reaves) learns martial arts just by loading a computer program into his brain?

    Neuralink might not be able to teach you martial arts but it will be able to send and receive electrical signals through your brain to control machines.

    Right now, the company has said that you will be able to control basic devices like your smartphone, computer and maybe even type using thoughts.

    The sensor will be inside a casing that houses the wires and insulation for the module. 
    The sensor will be inside a casing that houses the wires and insulation for the module. 
    (Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

    In order to understand how Neuralink works you must understand that your brain sends information to different parts of your body using neurons.

    These neurons in your brain connect with each other to form a large network and communicate using chemical signals called neurotransmitters. This reaction generates an electric field and you can record these reactions by placing electrodes nearby.

    These electrodes can then understand the electrical signal in your brain and translate them into an algorithm that a machine can read. This way Neuralink will be able to read what you are thinking and find a way for you to talk to machines without even opening your mouth. So no more calling out “OK Google” or “Alexa”.

    The goal of the N1 chip is to record and stimulate electrical spikes inside your brain. You’ll also be able to learn different skills using a dedicated app.

    The company will provide a dedicated app to learn skills.
    The company will provide a dedicated app to learn skills.
    (Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

    At the moment it is not clear whether Bluetooth or some other form of technology will be used to relay the data but it is certain that process is going to be wireless.

    Expand
  3. 3. How Will Neuralink Be Installed?

    Since we’re talking about drilling a hole into your skull and inserting wires into your brain there are a lot of reservations among people.

    Musk has said that the procedure is complex and beyond the capabilities of even skilled human hands.

    Th robot that will carry out the insertion.
    Th robot that will carry out the insertion.
    (Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

    Which is why Neuralink will be using its specially developed robots to carry out the quick and precise insertion of the device into the cortex. The company said it will work in accordance with the regulations by health ministries while carrying out the operation to ensure it is safe.

    The Nueralink robot will insert the module into your brain using a microscope and needles the size of 24 microns (a micron is one-millionth of a meter). These needles are so small that you can't easily spot them with the naked eye.

    A comparison of the size of the needle on the robot to that of a penny.
    A comparison of the size of the needle on the robot to that of a penny.
    (Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

    As per the company, there could be 10,000 electrodes inserted into the brain.

    The robot has been designed to ensure that the device is inserted into the brain without touching any veins or arteries. Each electrode will be inserted specifically bypassing any kind of blood vessel.

    Electrodes being inserted in the brain.
    Electrodes being inserted in the brain.
    (Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

    The operation will require a 2mm incision which will be dilated up to 8mm. After the procedure is complete the exposed part of the skull will be covered with the chipset module.

    The operation will require a 2mm incision in your skull.
    The operation will require a 2mm incision in your skull.
    (Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

    The installation procedure could take up to two hours according to Musk and the person could also be under partial anaesthesia during the process.

    He also said that there won’t be any wires or antennas coming out of your head after the device has been installed.

    Expand
  4. 4. How Can Neuralink Be Used?

    The company said that the initial phase of the project will focus on helping the healthcare industry. The machine will be able to help paraplegics with simple tasks like operating a phone or interacting with a computer. It may also be used to treat epilepsy.

    In an interview, Elon Musk said that the device will also be able to help regain someone’s eyesight even if they have lost their optic nerve. He said that this technology, in principle, will be able to fix anything wrong with the brain.

    Musk added that Neuralink can also be used to restore memory, speech and movement of a paralysed person.

    Post a complete symbiosis of the tech and the human brain it will also be able to help humans interact with each other without the need to actually talk, Musk said. He didn’t specify if we would need to learn a specific language for this but he said it will be possible.

    Imagine, the ability to read someone’s mind!

    You’ll also get an additional hardware to stream music into your brain.
    You’ll also get an additional hardware to stream music into your brain.
    (Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

    The most recent revelation by the company is about how users will be able to stream music directly into their brains. This will require a hardware call link to be attached to the back of the ear which will directly communicate with the Neuralink to stream music.

    You’re entering the realms of AI, the possibilities are endless! Imagine, you won’t need a physical communication device like a phone or a smartphone to connect with people. The idea of telepathy is not farfetched with tech like this.

    The speed of communication will also increase by folds as we won’t be wasting time typing sentences. Although, the process of capturing thought and transcribing them into sentences will take time.

    The company will explore more user cases when the technology is deployed but initially, the focus will be to make sure the technology interacts seamlessly with devices.

    Expand
  5. 5. Some of the Concerns

    Over the past couple of the years if the Netflix series Black Mirror has taught us anything it’s that you don’t mess with AI.

    Neuralink may be the bridge that connects human beings to the next level of artificial intelligence but many people might have reservations on a computer chipset inside their brains.

    As of now, the technology has not been tested on humans. The first live specimens to have undergone a symbiosis have been a rat and a monkey.

    The device is yet to undergo human trials.
    The device is yet to undergo human trials.
    (Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

    Astonishingly, the monkey was able to control a computer with his brain during testing but a monkey brain never wrote a symphony. Did it?

    There are also concerns that 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 a person from spying on my thoughts through the device?

    How long will the device be inside your head? Neuralink is looking at a timeline of 10 years at least.

    Will you have the option to remove it later? Musk says “yes.”

    We will get more clarity on Neuralink and questions like these as we get closer to the launch of the first commercial product. Till then, I am excited that something like this is in the pipeline.

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    Expand

What Is Neuralink?

Neuralink is a device that will be surgically implanted into your brain and with it, you’ll be able to communicate with machines and even control them.

It will also help study the electrical signals in the brain and arrive at solutions that can help cure various medical problems.

How the data transfer will take place on Neuralink.
How the data transfer will take place on Neuralink.
(Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

The company was founded in 2016 and has been working in developing this technology ever since.

According to Elon Musk, the team is optimistic of introducing the technology by the end of 2020, although human trials have not yet started.

With Neuralink a chipset, called N1 chipset, will be installed in your skull which is 8mm in diameter and has multiple wires housing electrodes and insulation for the wires.

The size of a Neuralink link chip compared to the little finger of the hand. 
The size of a Neuralink link chip compared to the little finger of the hand. 
(Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

These wires will be surgically placed inside your brain using a robot. As per the company, the wire is as thick as the neurons in your brain and thinner than a strand of hair at 100 micrometres. To compare, imagine the diameter of your hair, and then divide that diameter by ten.

You can place more than one device inside your skull.
You can place more than one device inside your skull.
(Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

Max Hodak, the president of Nueuralink, says that you can place more than one device to target different sections of your brain.

How Does Neuralink Work?

Have you seen the Hollywood action flick The Matrix? Remember the scene where Neo (played by Keanu Reaves) learns martial arts just by loading a computer program into his brain?

Neuralink might not be able to teach you martial arts but it will be able to send and receive electrical signals through your brain to control machines.

Right now, the company has said that you will be able to control basic devices like your smartphone, computer and maybe even type using thoughts.

The sensor will be inside a casing that houses the wires and insulation for the module. 
The sensor will be inside a casing that houses the wires and insulation for the module. 
(Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

In order to understand how Neuralink works you must understand that your brain sends information to different parts of your body using neurons.

These neurons in your brain connect with each other to form a large network and communicate using chemical signals called neurotransmitters. This reaction generates an electric field and you can record these reactions by placing electrodes nearby.

These electrodes can then understand the electrical signal in your brain and translate them into an algorithm that a machine can read. This way Neuralink will be able to read what you are thinking and find a way for you to talk to machines without even opening your mouth. So no more calling out “OK Google” or “Alexa”.

The goal of the N1 chip is to record and stimulate electrical spikes inside your brain. You’ll also be able to learn different skills using a dedicated app.

The company will provide a dedicated app to learn skills.
The company will provide a dedicated app to learn skills.
(Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

At the moment it is not clear whether Bluetooth or some other form of technology will be used to relay the data but it is certain that process is going to be wireless.

How Will Neuralink Be Installed?

Since we’re talking about drilling a hole into your skull and inserting wires into your brain there are a lot of reservations among people.

Musk has said that the procedure is complex and beyond the capabilities of even skilled human hands.

Th robot that will carry out the insertion.
Th robot that will carry out the insertion.
(Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

Which is why Neuralink will be using its specially developed robots to carry out the quick and precise insertion of the device into the cortex. The company said it will work in accordance with the regulations by health ministries while carrying out the operation to ensure it is safe.

The Nueralink robot will insert the module into your brain using a microscope and needles the size of 24 microns (a micron is one-millionth of a meter). These needles are so small that you can't easily spot them with the naked eye.

A comparison of the size of the needle on the robot to that of a penny.
A comparison of the size of the needle on the robot to that of a penny.
(Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

As per the company, there could be 10,000 electrodes inserted into the brain.

The robot has been designed to ensure that the device is inserted into the brain without touching any veins or arteries. Each electrode will be inserted specifically bypassing any kind of blood vessel.

Electrodes being inserted in the brain.
Electrodes being inserted in the brain.
(Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

The operation will require a 2mm incision which will be dilated up to 8mm. After the procedure is complete the exposed part of the skull will be covered with the chipset module.

The operation will require a 2mm incision in your skull.
The operation will require a 2mm incision in your skull.
(Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

The installation procedure could take up to two hours according to Musk and the person could also be under partial anaesthesia during the process.

He also said that there won’t be any wires or antennas coming out of your head after the device has been installed.

How Can Neuralink Be Used?

The company said that the initial phase of the project will focus on helping the healthcare industry. The machine will be able to help paraplegics with simple tasks like operating a phone or interacting with a computer. It may also be used to treat epilepsy.

In an interview, Elon Musk said that the device will also be able to help regain someone’s eyesight even if they have lost their optic nerve. He said that this technology, in principle, will be able to fix anything wrong with the brain.

Musk added that Neuralink can also be used to restore memory, speech and movement of a paralysed person.

Post a complete symbiosis of the tech and the human brain it will also be able to help humans interact with each other without the need to actually talk, Musk said. He didn’t specify if we would need to learn a specific language for this but he said it will be possible.

Imagine, the ability to read someone’s mind!

You’ll also get an additional hardware to stream music into your brain.
You’ll also get an additional hardware to stream music into your brain.
(Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

The most recent revelation by the company is about how users will be able to stream music directly into their brains. This will require a hardware call link to be attached to the back of the ear which will directly communicate with the Neuralink to stream music.

You’re entering the realms of AI, the possibilities are endless! Imagine, you won’t need a physical communication device like a phone or a smartphone to connect with people. The idea of telepathy is not farfetched with tech like this.

The speed of communication will also increase by folds as we won’t be wasting time typing sentences. Although, the process of capturing thought and transcribing them into sentences will take time.

The company will explore more user cases when the technology is deployed but initially, the focus will be to make sure the technology interacts seamlessly with devices.

Some of the Concerns

Over the past couple of the years if the Netflix series Black Mirror has taught us anything it’s that you don’t mess with AI.

Neuralink may be the bridge that connects human beings to the next level of artificial intelligence but many people might have reservations on a computer chipset inside their brains.

As of now, the technology has not been tested on humans. The first live specimens to have undergone a symbiosis have been a rat and a monkey.

The device is yet to undergo human trials.
The device is yet to undergo human trials.
(Photo: YouTube/Neuralink)

Astonishingly, the monkey was able to control a computer with his brain during testing but a monkey brain never wrote a symphony. Did it?

There are also concerns that 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 a person from spying on my thoughts through the device?

How long will the device be inside your head? Neuralink is looking at a timeline of 10 years at least.

Will you have the option to remove it later? Musk says “yes.”

We will get more clarity on Neuralink and questions like these as we get closer to the launch of the first commercial product. Till then, I am excited that something like this is in the pipeline.

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