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Explained: Can Elon Musk’s Neuralink Brain Implant Read Your Mind?

Elon Musk’s Neuralink is making a computer chip that can be implanted into the brain. Here's how it works

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Over the past seven years, billionaire Elon Musk’s company Neuralink has been working towards developing a computer chip that can be implanted into the brain and monitor the activities of your neurons – nerve cells that send messages to various areas of the brain.

While other interfaces such as IpsiHand, have recently been granted FDA approval, Neuralink was recently denied such approval to begin human trials.

While doing so, the FDA raised concerns regarding its lithium batteries and potential harm to other parts of the brain during removal, or in general.

Since Musk first announced the gizmo, it has been surrounded by controversy, with questions like, how ethical is it? And, how invasive will it be? Popping up from time to time.

FIT breaks down everything you need to know about Neuralink, and how it works.

Explained: Can Elon Musk’s Neuralink Brain Implant Read Your Mind?

  1. 1. What Is It?

    This chip was officially regarded as a “brain-computer interface” (BCI) containing a minuscule probe with over 3000 electrodes being held together by thinner-than-human hair and highly flexible threads.

    The aim of this creation, as explained by Musk himself, was to allow computers to hold information and memories stored deep inside the brain thereby downloading the information onto the computer.

    It would use this technology to tackle conditions such as blindness, and paralysis, and even hopes to provide individuals with “supervision” in the future.

    Musk further explained how Neuralink could be used as a means to achieve the ambitious goal of human telepathy and that such technology could help the human race succeed in a war against artificial intelligence.

    Expand
  2. 2. What Can It Do?

    Although extremely ambitious goals have been set for this technology, they are not all quite feasible. "We cannot read people's minds. The amount of information that we can decode from the brain is very limited,ʺ Glacomo Valle, a neural engineer at the University of Chicago was quoted as saying by DW.

    Further, Juan Alvaro Gallego, a BCI researcher at Imperial College London, said, ʺthe fundamental problem is that we don't really know where or how thoughts are stored in the brain. We can't read thoughts if we don't understand the neuroscience behind them."

    However, such technology could be used for conditions such as paralysis or locked-in syndrome wherein an individual is fully conscious but can not move any part of the brain aside from the eyes thus being unable to communicate.

    In such cases, Gallego explained that a translation of an individual’s internal communication into words on a computer could be nothing short of life-changing.

    Such instances would involve the BCI recording electrical signals from neurons present in the motor cortex sending signals to a computer which further displays the text.

    The BCI does not record thoughts, but rather the brain’s plan of action regarding movement such as moving a finger or leg or opening the mouth.

    This is because, the motor cortex is not responsible for thinking but rather manages instructions regarding movement, such as moving the tongue to speak.

    Thus, the electrodes seek to record the motor plan that follows processing in different parts of the brain such as sensory, linguistic, and cognitive, all required for movement or speech.

    Other BCIs also exist, such as Utah array which was implanted in the brain of Nathan Copeland. Copeland is known to have a robotic hand with which he shook Barack Obama’s hand and was able to feel the sensation of touch.

    This is because the BCI stimulated his brain with small currents in order to produce sensation with the help of electrodes in the sensory cortex to stimulate the “hand” region of the brain, as explained by Gallego to DW.

    Thus, BCIs have the ability to provide a treatment involving implants in different regions of the brain thereby helping those with movement disorders.

    Expand
  3. 3. What Are The Ethics Surrounding Such Inventions?

    BCIs are expected to involve a lot of ethical concerns.

    "For example, what are the consequences of privacy breaches when the data in question relate to peoples' thoughts? How can we ensure that a lack of access does not exacerbate societal inequity? What happens when this information can be directly input into the brain? ʺ
    Glacomo Valle, neural engineer at the University of Chicago as quoted by DW

    Further, ethical concerns regarding the testing of such technology have also arisen.

    Neuralink, in a video posted on 9 April, 2021 showed a macaque monkey who supposedly had a Neuralink chip in each side of his brain, playing a video game on the screen by simply using his mind.

    According to the company, he managed “outstanding brain-computer interface performance,” without losing his normal self of needing any restraints.

    Implanting such chips in the brains of animals with the end goal of human use is thought to have several medical, legal, and ethical issues.

    With Neuralink, several reports of animal harm and the death of monkeys by euthanasia caused a worldwide uproar.

    Moreover, the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine group sued UC Davis which previously held experiments for the company on monkeys for not releasing their photos and videos while being used for such purposes.

    The PCRM also added that the monkeys underwent painful symptoms due to these experiments and even died as a result.

    According to the records of UC Davis, the lab workers cut open the monkeys’ skulls and used an “unapproved adhesive” named BioGlue which further leaked into their brains.

    “In one monkey, the use of BioGlue caused bleeding in her brain, and she vomited so much from the resulting side effects that she developed open sores in her esophagus."
    PCRM in a press release

    The PRCM further claimed that UC Davis had acknowledged the fact that there were several photographs of monkeys in these experiments that it did not wish to release.

    Neuralink in return published a statement regarding the “humane and ethical” treatment of its animals, including the several deaths relating to their experiments.

    Neuralink, in a statement said, “As part of this work, two animals were euthanized at planned end dates to gather important histological data, and six animals were euthanized at the medical advice of the veterinary staff at UC Davis,”

    The company also stated that BioGlue is US FDA approved, and all animal work at UC Davis was approved by the university’s animal care regulator which is in consonance with the Federal law.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What Is It?

This chip was officially regarded as a “brain-computer interface” (BCI) containing a minuscule probe with over 3000 electrodes being held together by thinner-than-human hair and highly flexible threads.

The aim of this creation, as explained by Musk himself, was to allow computers to hold information and memories stored deep inside the brain thereby downloading the information onto the computer.

It would use this technology to tackle conditions such as blindness, and paralysis, and even hopes to provide individuals with “supervision” in the future.

Musk further explained how Neuralink could be used as a means to achieve the ambitious goal of human telepathy and that such technology could help the human race succeed in a war against artificial intelligence.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

What Can It Do?

Although extremely ambitious goals have been set for this technology, they are not all quite feasible. "We cannot read people's minds. The amount of information that we can decode from the brain is very limited,ʺ Glacomo Valle, a neural engineer at the University of Chicago was quoted as saying by DW.

Further, Juan Alvaro Gallego, a BCI researcher at Imperial College London, said, ʺthe fundamental problem is that we don't really know where or how thoughts are stored in the brain. We can't read thoughts if we don't understand the neuroscience behind them."

However, such technology could be used for conditions such as paralysis or locked-in syndrome wherein an individual is fully conscious but can not move any part of the brain aside from the eyes thus being unable to communicate.

In such cases, Gallego explained that a translation of an individual’s internal communication into words on a computer could be nothing short of life-changing.

Such instances would involve the BCI recording electrical signals from neurons present in the motor cortex sending signals to a computer which further displays the text.

The BCI does not record thoughts, but rather the brain’s plan of action regarding movement such as moving a finger or leg or opening the mouth.

This is because, the motor cortex is not responsible for thinking but rather manages instructions regarding movement, such as moving the tongue to speak.

Thus, the electrodes seek to record the motor plan that follows processing in different parts of the brain such as sensory, linguistic, and cognitive, all required for movement or speech.

Other BCIs also exist, such as Utah array which was implanted in the brain of Nathan Copeland. Copeland is known to have a robotic hand with which he shook Barack Obama’s hand and was able to feel the sensation of touch.

This is because the BCI stimulated his brain with small currents in order to produce sensation with the help of electrodes in the sensory cortex to stimulate the “hand” region of the brain, as explained by Gallego to DW.

Thus, BCIs have the ability to provide a treatment involving implants in different regions of the brain thereby helping those with movement disorders.

0

What Are The Ethics Surrounding Such Inventions?

BCIs are expected to involve a lot of ethical concerns.

"For example, what are the consequences of privacy breaches when the data in question relate to peoples' thoughts? How can we ensure that a lack of access does not exacerbate societal inequity? What happens when this information can be directly input into the brain? ʺ
Glacomo Valle, neural engineer at the University of Chicago as quoted by DW

Further, ethical concerns regarding the testing of such technology have also arisen.

Neuralink, in a video posted on 9 April, 2021 showed a macaque monkey who supposedly had a Neuralink chip in each side of his brain, playing a video game on the screen by simply using his mind.

According to the company, he managed “outstanding brain-computer interface performance,” without losing his normal self of needing any restraints.

Implanting such chips in the brains of animals with the end goal of human use is thought to have several medical, legal, and ethical issues.

With Neuralink, several reports of animal harm and the death of monkeys by euthanasia caused a worldwide uproar.

Moreover, the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine group sued UC Davis which previously held experiments for the company on monkeys for not releasing their photos and videos while being used for such purposes.

The PCRM also added that the monkeys underwent painful symptoms due to these experiments and even died as a result.

According to the records of UC Davis, the lab workers cut open the monkeys’ skulls and used an “unapproved adhesive” named BioGlue which further leaked into their brains.

“In one monkey, the use of BioGlue caused bleeding in her brain, and she vomited so much from the resulting side effects that she developed open sores in her esophagus."
PCRM in a press release

The PRCM further claimed that UC Davis had acknowledged the fact that there were several photographs of monkeys in these experiments that it did not wish to release.

Neuralink in return published a statement regarding the “humane and ethical” treatment of its animals, including the several deaths relating to their experiments.

Neuralink, in a statement said, “As part of this work, two animals were euthanized at planned end dates to gather important histological data, and six animals were euthanized at the medical advice of the veterinary staff at UC Davis,”

The company also stated that BioGlue is US FDA approved, and all animal work at UC Davis was approved by the university’s animal care regulator which is in consonance with the Federal law.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Elon Musk   Explainer   Neuralink 

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