Updated: Dec 12, 2021
We all have heard about Neuralink. The majority of people have considered Neuralink to be an ambitious project that has the potential to heal even the most incurable of diseases. However, others assume that the core mission of this project is to control humans. But what exactly is Neuralink? A threat to humanity? Or the beginning of a new age of development in medicine and medical treatment methods?
Neuralink is a brain-machine interface technology that sinks electrodes into the brain, and then uses a chip to communicate with computers placed outside the skull. It was first surgically implanted into the skull of a pig named Gertrude. By using this chip, one will be able to control computers. It will also help with the study of electrical signals in the brain and may arrive at solutions that can cure various medical problems.
There is a chipset called the N1 chipset that is installed into the skull: it is 8mm in diameter and has multiple wires housing electrodes and insulation for the wires. These wires are surgically inserted into the brain using a robot. According to the company, the wire is as thick as the neurons in the brain and thinner than a strand of hair – around 100 micrometers in diameter. To compare, imagine the diameter of your hair, and then divide that by ten.
According to the President of Neuralink, Max Hodak, it is even possible that more than one device can be implanted to target different sections of the brain. At first sight, the Neuralink project may look like the technology that we see in “The Matrix”. For example, in “The Matrix”, by using the advanced technology, people are able to learn new skills and develop themselves. Although the Neuralink will not help us learn martial arts like in ”The Matrix”, it will help cure a lot of diseases and ease our lives. Moreover, The Neuralink can send and receive signals through the brain and control machines. Since that is just the first step, you can possibly control basic devices like your smartphone, computer or even maybe type a message to your girlfriend to show your love just by using your thoughts. Sounds cool? But this is not the end of it.
The main question is, how does the technology that the Neuralink uses, actually work? To understand that, we need to understand the way the human brain works. Our brain sends information to different parts of our body using neurons. These neurons in the brain connect with each other to form a large network and communicate using chemical signals called neurotransmitters. This reaction generates an electric field. We can record all of these reactions by placing electrodes nearby. These electrodes can then interpret the electrical signal in the brain and translate them into an algorithm that a machine can read. This way, Neuralink will be able to read what we are thinking and find a way for us to talk to machines without even opening our mouths. The goal of the N1 chip is to record and stimulate electrical spikes inside our brain. We will also be able to learn different skills using a dedicated app.
Let’s talk about the uses of Neuralink. 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 could possibly help someone regain their eyesight even if they lost their optic nerve. He said that this technology, in principle, will be able to fix anything that is wrong with the brain. Musk added that Neuralink can also be used to restore memory, speech, and movement of the paralysed person. According to the company, we will also be able to interact with people even without talking. 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 link to be attached to the back of the ear, directly communicating with the Neuralink to stream music. In the realm of artificial intelligence (A.I.), there is no limit. Imagine the possibility of not needing a physical communication device like a phone or a smartphone to connect with people. The idea of telepathy doesn’t seem far-fetched with technology like this.
This brings us to the next major concern: drilling a chip into the skull. Naturally, people have numerous reservations about whether even the problem arises with the question of whether even the most skilled human hand can handle such an immense operation. The answer is that a human hand can’t, but Neuralink will use its specially developed robots to carry out the quick and precise insertion of the device into the cortex. The Neuralink robot will insert the module into the 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. According to the company, there could be 10,000 electrodes inserted into the brain, but of course, there will not be any antenna or wire protruding from the skull. The robot has been designed to ensure that the device is inserted into the brain without touching any veins or arteries. A single failure or mishap can result in the patient’s death seeing as it is the most sensitive part of the body.
We are entering the realms of the A.I. at this point. Thanks to today's science-fiction movies, people are afraid of technology and its potential. Neuralink might be the bridge that connects human beings to the next level of artificial intelligence but many people might still have reservations about a computer chipset inside their brains. As of now, the technology has not been tested on humans. The first living being to have undergone this procedure was a rat and a monkey. We have absolutely no idea of the problems that this chip can cause to the human brain. There are also concerns that if the device is connected to the internet how will we be protected against the hackers who might try to steal data directly from our brains. And what is stopping a person from spying on another’s thoughts through the device? The chip can be removed anytime, but that is not the best solution for these problems. Still, it is too early to talk about the benefits and drawbacks of this project as nothing is tested or proven yet. But it is still a matter of time. As of now, we can just sit back and enjoy the unlimited human imagination.