Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and CEO at Tesla, founded Neuralink with the purpose of solving a wide-range of brain-related issues via a Brain Machine Interface (BMI) device that is actively under development called ‘Link’. The coin-sized chip features 1,024 electrode threads that are implanted into the brain where the thin electrodes can stimulate neurons. Neuralink aims to enable paralyzed individuals to control electronic devices with their ‘thoughts’. The company has been testing the technology on animals. In August last year, it showcased how the Link chip works on pigs. Read more: Elon Musk demonstrates Neuralink brain-chip implant on Pig
Today, April 8, the neuro-technology company gave a first look at a macaque monkey playing pong with its mind. Neuralink shared a video of a 9-year-old macaque, named ‘Pager,’ who has an N1 Link chip implanted in the sensory area (motor-cortex) of its brain that coordinates hand an arm movements. “The Links record over 2,000 electrodes implanted in the regions in Pager’s motor-cortex” they said. “He has learned to interact with a computer for a tasty banana smoothie delivered with a straw,” the company’s video narrator says (video below).
The chip inside Pager’s brain can be accessed simply by pairing it with an iPhone via Bluetooth connection. The engineers recorded the neural activity in the monkey’s brain while it played the game on a computer screen using a joystick, “as he is playing this game we are wireless streaming in real time, the firing rates of thousands of neurons to the computer,” they said. Then using the data gathered engineers calibrated the neural activity to the different joystick movements they produce. The company disconnected the joystick to demonstrate the monkey was able to use the Link chip device in its brain to interact with the Pong game on the computer screen. “Our goal is to enable a person with paralysis to use a computer or phone with their brain activity alone,” the company said. “First Neuralink product will enable someone with paralysis to use a smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs. Later versions will be able to shunt signals from Neuralinks in brain to Neuralinks in body motor/sensory neuron clusters, thus enabling, for example, paraplegics to walk again,” Musk stated, adding that the first human trials could take place -“Hopefully, later this year.”
Later versions will be able to shunt signals from Neuralinks in brain to Neuralinks in body motor/sensory neuron clusters, thus enabling, for example, paraplegics to walk again— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 9, 2021
The company notes that with monkeys, the decoder is calibrated with actual joystick movements, with a paralyzed individual it will be done through their imagination. – “Neurons in the motor cortex remain directionally tuned to movement intention even in people with paralysis, and that it is possible to calibrate a decoder as the person simply imagines moving a mouse on a mousepad or a finger on a trackpad to guide a cursor that automatically moves to presented targets,” the company said, “After the decoder is calibrated, the person is able to type emails and text messages, browse the web, or anything else that can be done with a computer, just by thinking about how they want the cursor to move.” You can view the monkey playing MindPong in the videos linked below.
Featured Image Source: Neuralink
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.