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How Elon Musk’s Neuralink Changes the Future

By Angela Tao


Having a computer chip implanted in the brain seemed to only exist in science fiction, but it has become a reality with Elon Musk’s Neuralink. The Neuralink aims to fuse humans and artificial intelligence. For its first goal, however, it plans to help quadriplegics move again [4]. Consisting of thin threads with electrodes that can sense brain activity, the microchip of the Neuralink would send signals from a computer to the electrodes to stimulate neurons [2]. As a result, the microchip would be able to reinstate neurologic functions that people may have lost; the blind would regain their sight, people with Alzheimer’s would retain their memories, and the paralyzed would move once again [2].


Beyond being a medical device, the Neuralink would also enhance cognitive processing for healthy individuals [6]. In other words, the brain’s computational abilities would be augmented. Tasks would be completed without “middlemen” like laptops, gaming consoles, and watches. Instead, the Neuralink would hold all those functions inside the brain [6].


The science behind this lies within the microchip. Connected to the microchip are threads slimmer than human hair [4]. These would be implanted in the outer layer of the brain, and inside each thread are tiny electrodes [4]. The electrodes would send electrical activity from the neurons to a wearable computer called the Link [2]. The Link -- a wireless Bluetooth device worn behind one’s ear -- would then analyze the electrical activity and send back computer-generated signals to influence the neurons [2].


However, there is still much work to be done before the Neuralink can treat health issues and supplement cognition. Among a myriad of challenges, Musk must design an accurate algorithm to understand neurons and somehow increase the number of electrodes per thread [6]. Not only that, but a way to lengthen the lifespan of the microprocessor and threads needs to be created as well [3]. As Cynthia Chestek, a neural engineer at the University of Michigan, stated, “You need to make the whole system last for decades.” [3]. Because of the invasive procedure that would be needed to implant the microchip, users would also be susceptible to infections and inflammations [5]. It will be an estimated 10 years before the Neuralink will be available for medical applications and 20 years before the Neuralink will be released publically [1]. Nevertheless, the possibility of using a device that could read minds within this generation is science fiction turned real.




References:

  1. Eadicicco, L. (2020, May 07). Elon Musk says there's a chance his AI-brain-chip company will be putting implants in humans within a year. Retrieved October 05, 2020, from https://www.businessinsider.com/elon-musk-neuralink-brain-chip-put-in-human-within-year-2020-5

  2. Gover, N. (2020, August 27). How will Elon Musk's Neuralink affect different industries in the future? Retrieved October 05, 2020, from https://medium.com/@governadav/how-will-elon-musks-neuralink-affect-different-industries-in-the-future-6564217a46c

  3. Kelly ServickJul. 17, 2., Lucy HicksSep. 23, 2., Rasha AridiSep. 23, 2., Jocelyn KaiserSep. 21, 2., Rasha AridiSep. 11, 2., & Rebekah TuchschererSep. 4, 2. (2019, July 17). Elon Musk's startup eyes human testing for brain-computer interface. Retrieved October 05, 2020, from https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/07/elon-musk-s-startup-eyes-human-testing-brain-computer-interface

  4. Lewis, T. (2019, July 17). Elon Musk's Secretive Brain Tech Company Debuts a Sophisticated Neural Implant. Retrieved October 05, 2020, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/elon-musks-secretive-brain-tech-company-debuts-a-sophisticated-neural-implant1/

  5. Shankland, S. (2020, August 29). Elon Musk shows Neuralink brain implant working in a pig. Retrieved October 05, 2020, from https://www.cnet.com/news/elon-musk-shows-neuralink-brain-implant-working-in-a-pig/

  6. Tan, J. (2020, September 03). Neuralink - What the Future of a Brain-Computer Unfolds? Retrieved October 05, 2020, from https://medium.com/swlh/neuralink-what-the-future-of-a-brain-computer-unfolds-7a904afa30a

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