Musk Introduced a Chip In a Pig’s Brain
Spaceships, rockets, hyperloop, futuristic electric car, and now also ultra-modern neurodevice. The famous inventor Elon Musk demonstrates a new achievement. His company Neuralink developed and successfully tested a computer chip for the brain. The apparatus, measuring 23 by 8 mm, resembles a coin and monitors the activity of the organ. All data is transmitted to a computer at a distance. The researchers tested the work of the neural interface on two pigs. The device was later removed from one of them, the second ‒ Gertrude ‒ is still with it.
“Over the past year, we have simplified our systems a lot: they now fit into a chip that takes up less space than a coin and can be completely hidden during implantation. It will completely merge with the skull bone and will be invisible from the outside, working all day without recharging,” said the entrepreneur during a press conference at the headquarters of Neuralink. The broadcast was conducted on a YouTube channel.
During the conference, broadcast online from Neuralink headquarters in Fremont, California, scientists from the Elon Musk-backed company provided progress updates. This comes a little over a year after Neuralink, founded in 2016 to create brain-machine interfaces, revealed its vision, software, and implantable hardware platform.
In a live demonstration, readings of a pig’s brain were shown on the screen. When the pig touched the object with its snout, neurons captured by Neuralink technology (which had been implanted in the pig’s brain two months earlier) showed activity on a television monitor. Neuralink uniquely uses flexible cellophane-like conductive wires inserted into the tissue by a surgical robot powered by a sewing machine. Neuralink is working with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on future clinical trials for people with quadriplegia, said Musk.
During the demonstration, a pig with an implant, named Gertrude, playfully pinned its handlers to a pen adjacent with two other pigs, one of which also had a chip installed and then removed. The third pig served as a control and did not have a chip inserted. Musk explained that Pigs have a brain membrane and skull structure similar to a human, and can be trained to walk on treadmills and perform other activities useful in experiments. This is why Neuralink chose them as the third animal to study its implants, after mice and monkeys.
The Neuralink prototype can extract information in real-time from many neurons at the same time, repeated Musk during a stream. The electrode relay detects neural impulses to the processor, which is able to read information from thousands of channels, which is about 15 times better than the current systems built into humans. It meets the basic requirements of scientific research and medical applications and potentially outperforms the Belgian Imec neuropixel technology, which can collect data from thousands of individual brain cells simultaneously. The commercial Neuralink system can include up to 3,072 electrodes per 96-strand array, said Musk.
The interface contains inertial sensors, pressure and temperature sensors, an all-day battery that charges inductively, and analog pixels that amplify and filter neural signals before they are converted to digital bits. Neuralink claims that analog pixels are at least 5 times smaller than the prior one. A single analog pixel can capture the entire neural signal of 20,000 samples per second at 10-bit resolution, resulting in 200 Mbps of neural data for each of the 1024 recorded channels.
As soon as the signals are amplified, they are converted and digitized by the built-in analog-to-digital converters, which directly characterize the shape of the neurons’ impulses. According to Neuralink, it only takes 900 nanoseconds to compute the incoming N1 / Link neural data.
N1 / Link wirelessly pairs via Bluetooth with a smartphone at a distance of up to 10 meters. Neuralink claims that implants will eventually be configured through the app and that patients may be able to control buttons and redirect outputs from the phone to a computer keyboard or mouse. In a pre-recorded video played back at today’s conference, N1 / Link showed a power signal to an algorithm that predicted the position of all limbs of the pig with “high precision.”
At the presentation of the invention, Elon Musk said: “The sounds you hear are real signals from the chip in Gertrude’s head. That is, it is connected to the neurons in her snout. When she sniffs out something, grunts, and touches objects with her nose, she sends the appropriate signals. As you can see, this is a happy and healthy pig with a chip in its head. Therefore, you can carry a neural system in the brain that will give signals, and you will feel great.”
Neuralink founders Tim Hanson and Philip Sabes, both from the University of California, San Francisco, pioneered the technology development with the University of California, Berkeley Professor Michel Maharbiz. Musk calls this version “V2” and it represents an improvement over what was shown last year. Musk is confident that someday it will be possible to implant it into the human brain in less than an hour without the use of general anesthesia. He also says it will be easy to remove and leave no lasting damage if the patient wants to upgrade or abandon the Neuralink interface.
Neuralink partnered with San Francisco-based Woke Studios to design a robotic sewing machine. The machine uses optical coherence tomography to track the brain in real-time and 5 axes of motion to access implantation sites around the patient’s head, as well as a 150-micron gripper to grip and release filaments using a 40-micron needle.
Neuralink was founded four years ago and raised $158 million in funding, $100 million of which came from Musk. The purpose of the event on Friday was not to attract investment, but to attract people, new specialists, said Musk.
The chip is implanted under the skin, and it connects with fine filaments that deliver electrodes to the right part of the brain. Threads are ten times thinner than hair. The operation takes less than an hour and requires only local anesthesia. The device is capable of working all day and charges wirelessly at night. If necessary, the device can be removed and replaced with a new one without harm to health.
Elon Musk dubbed the latest development a “fitness bracelet for the brain.” The invention is intended for the treatment of organ damage and neurological disorders such as paralysis, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. It can also help people who have had a stroke or cancer, who suffer from insomnia, loss of hearing, vision, or memory.
“The chip performs the same functions as a smartwatch or phone: it measures your heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature. It monitors your health and can warn of a heart attack, or other troubles. And it can also play music. It is something like a smartphone that has been stitched into your brain,” says Musk.
Inventors are now awaiting the necessary permits and licenses to begin testing on humans. The chip can be implanted in healthy people ‒ to improve brain function. However, Elon Musk does not intend to stop there.
The plans are to finally go beyond the real and turn the device into artificial intelligence, which will not only broadcast music but will be able to record and replay memories.
Talking about the price of the device, dubbed Link, Musk said that in the future it would cost several thousand dollars. Link is supposed to read information about the brain using threads thinner than a human hair connected to it. “I think it will be quite expensive at first, but the price will go down very quickly. I think we would like the cost to go down to several thousand dollars, including the automatic surgery,” said the inventor.