Elon Musk’s Neuralink wants to embed microchips in people’s skulls and get robots to perform brain surgery

By Isobel Asher Hamilton

  • Neuralink is one of Elon Musk’s strange and futuristic portfolio of companies.
  • Neuralink developing neural interface technology — a.k.a. putting microchips into people’s brains.
  • The technology could help study and treat neurological disorders. 

Elon Musk is known for his high-profile companies like Tesla and SpaceX, but the billionaire also has a handful of unusual ventures. One them, he says, he started to one day achieve “symbiosis” between the human brain and artificial intelligence.

Neuralink is Musk’s neural interface technology company. The company is building a device that could be embedded in a person’s brain, where it could both record brain activity and potentially stimulate it. Musk has compared the technology to a “FitBit in your skull.”

While Musk likes to talk up his futuristic vision for the technology, the tech has plenty of near-term potential medical applications.

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New York company gets jump on Elon Musk’s Neuralink with brain-computer interface in clinical trials

Elon Musk might be well positioned in space travel and electric vehicles, but the world’s second-richest person is taking a backseat when it comes to a brain-computer interface (BCI).

New York-based Synchron announced Wednesday that it has received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to begin clinical trials of its Stentrode motor neuroprosthesis – a brain implant it is hoped could ultimately be used to cure paralysis. 

The FDA approved Synchron’s Investigational Device Exemption (IDE) application, according to a release, paving the way for an early feasibility study of Stentrode to begin later this year at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital.

New York-based Synchron announced Wednesday that it has received FDA approval to begin clinical trials of Stentrode, its brain-computer interface, beating Elon Musk’s Neuralink to a crucial benchmark.

The study will analyze the safety and efficacy of the device, smaller than a matchstick, in six patients with severe paralysis.

Meanwhile, Musk has been touting Neuralink, his brain-implant startup, for several years—most recently showing a video of a monkey with the chip playing Pong using only signals from its brain.

However, the company reportedly has been plagued by setbacks and unrealistic timelines. 

‘The approval of this IDE reflects years of safety testing performed in conjunction with FDA,’ Synchron CEO Thomas Oxley said in the release. 

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Inbrain Neuroelectronics Believes Its Chips Could Outperform Elon Musk’s Neuralink

By Nica Osorio  
KEY POINTS

  • Elon Musk’s Neuralink has a new competitor
  • It’s a startup company called Inbrain Neuroelectronics
  • It says its chips are made of one of the strongest materials ever tested
  • It aims to cure brain disorders using its technology

A Spanish startup company called Inbrain Neuroelectronics believes its chips could outperform Neuralink, Elon Musk’s brainchild.

In April, Musk said that Neutralink, which develops brain-machine interfaces, could transition from implanting chips in monkeys to embedding them in humans within 2021. But Inbrain Neuroelectronics, which specializes in brain implants made of graphene, thinks its chip could do better.

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Brain-Computer Interface Smashes Previous Record for Typing Speed

By Emily Waltz

The ancient art of handwriting has just pushed the field of brain-computer interface (BCI) to the next level. Researchers have devised a system that allows a person to communicate directly with a computer from his brain by imagining creating handwritten messages. The approach enables communication at a rate more than twice as fast as previous typing-by-brain experiments. 

Researchers at Stanford University performed the study on a 65-year-old man with a spinal cord injury who had had an electrode array implanted in his brain. The scientists described the experiment recently in the journal Nature

“The big news from this paper is the very high speed,” says Cynthia Chestek, a biomedical engineer at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the study. “It’s at least half way to able-bodied typing speed, and that’s why this paper is in Nature.”

For years, researchers have been experimenting with ways to enable people to directly communicate with computers using only their thoughts, without verbal commands, hand movement, or eye movement. This kind of technology offers a life-giving communication method for people who are “locked in” from brainstem stroke or disease, and unable to speak. 

Successful BCI typing-by-brain approaches so far typically involve a person imagining moving a cursor around a digital keyboard to select letters. Meanwhile, electrodes record brain activity, and machine learning algorithms decipher the patterns associated with those thoughts, translating them into the typed words. The fastest of these previous typing-by-brain experiments allowed people to type about 40 characters, or 8 words, per minute.

That we can do this at all is impressive, but in real life that speed of communication is quite slow. The Stanford researchers were able to more than double that speed with a system that decodes brain activity associated with handwriting. 

In the new system, the participant, who had been paralyzed for about a decade, imagines the hand movements he would make to write sentences. “We ask him to actually try to write—to try to make his hand move again, and he reports this somatosensory illusion of actually feeling like his hand is moving,” says Frank Willett, a researcher at Stanford who collaborated on the experiment. 

A microelectrode array implanted in the motor cortex of the participant’s brain records the electrical activity of individual neurons as he tries to write. “He hasn’t moved his hand or tried to write in more than ten years and we still got these beautiful patterns of neural activity,” says Willett.

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Neurable introduces brain-computer interface headphones

BCI headphones. Credit: Neurable

by Sarah Katz

The neurotechnology company Neurable has revealed plans for brain-computer interface (BCI) headphones, similar to previous products designed to learn from human movement and predict intent.

This idea began with the product lead Dr. Ramses Alcaide. Inspired by his uncle’s successful engineering of his own prosthetic legs following a horrific automobile accident, Alcaide realized the usefulness of technology that could assist users with physical mobility. 

During his time as a neuroscience Ph.D. student working with differently abled individuals, Alcaide took note of the discrepancy between the abilities of prosthetics versus brain reading technology. Ultimately, his observations influenced his decision to focus on developing technology capable of directly interacting with the human brain in real-time. 

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Elon Musk is one step closer to connecting a computer to your brain

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Neuralink has demonstrated a prototype of its brain-machine interface that currently works in pigs.

At a Friday event, Elon Musk revealed more details about his mysterious neuroscience company Neuralink and its plans to connect computers to human brains. While the development of this futuristic-sounding tech is still in its early stages, the presentation was expected to demonstrate the second version of a small, robotic device that inserts tiny electrode threads through the skull and into the brain. Musk said ahead of the event he would “show neurons firing in real-time. The matrix in the matrix.”

And he did just that. At the event, Musk showed off several pigs that had prototypes of the neural links implanted in their head, and machinery that was tracking those pigs’ brain activity in real time. The billionaire also announced the Food and Drug Administration had awarded the company a breakthrough device authorization, which can help expedite research on a medical device.

Like building underground car tunnels and sending private rockets to Mars, this Musk-backed endeavor is incredibly ambitious, but Neuralink builds on years of research into brain-machine interfaces. A brain-machine interface is technology that allows for a device, like a computer, to interact and communicate with a brain. Neuralink, in particular, aims to build an incredibly powerful brain-machine interface, a device with the power to handle lots of data, that can be inserted in a relatively simple surgery. Its short-term goal is to build a device that can help people with specific health conditions.

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Scientists inspired by Star Wars develop artificial skin capable of recreating sense of touch

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A researcher at the NUS demonstrates the self-healing abilities of an artificial, transparent skin

ACES, or Asynchronous Coded Electronic Skin, comprises up to 100 small sensors to replicate a sense of feeling.

  • Researchers say it can process information faster than the nervous system
  • The skin is able to recognise 20 to 30 different textures
  • The technology is still in the experimental stage

Singapore researchers have developed “electronic skin” capable of recreating a sense of touch, an innovation they hope will allow people with prosthetic limbs to detect objects, as well as feel texture, or even temperature and pain.

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Elon Musk claims AI will overtake humans in ‘less than five years’

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Chatbots powered by artificial intelligence are already capable of passing some Turing tests. ( AFP via Getty Images )

Existential threat posed by artificial intelligence is much closer than previously predicted, billionaire warns.

Elon Musk has warned that humans risk being overtaken by artificial intelligence within the next five years.

The prediction marks a significant revision of previous estimations of the so-called technological singularity, when machine intelligence surpasses human intelligence and accelerates at an incomprehensible rate.

Noted futurist Ray Kurzweil previously pegged this superintelligence tipping point at around 2045, citing exponential advances in technologies like robotics, computers and AI.

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Elon Musk claims his Neuralink chip will allow you to stream music directly to your brain

Brain-computer interface could also give people ‘enhanced abilities’

Elon Musk‘s mysterious Neuralink startup is working on a brain-computer interface that will allow wearers to stream music directly to their brain, the technology entrepreneur has claimed.

Mr Musk, who also heads SpaceX and Tesla, is set to reveal new information about the mysterious startup next month but has been slowly releasing details over Twitter in recent days.

Responding to computer scientist Austin Howard, Mr Musk confirmed that Neuralink’s technology would allow people to “listen to music directly from our chips.”

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Disrupting death: Could we really live forever in digital form?

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Virtual reality, robots, chatbots and holograms could allow us to exist perpetually. Whether we should choose the option is a different story.

In 2016, Jang Ji-sung’s young daughter Nayeon passed away from a blood-related disease. But in February, the South Korean mother was reunited with her daughter in virtual reality. Experts constructed a version of her child using motion capture technology for a documentary. Wearing a VR headset and haptic gloves, Jang was able to walk, talk and play with this digital version of her daughter.

“Maybe it’s a real paradise,” Jang said of the moment the two met in VR. “I met Nayeon, who called me with a smile, for a very short time, but it’s a very happy time. I think I’ve had the dream I’ve always wanted.”

Once largely the concern of science fiction, more people are now interested in immortality — whether that’s keeping your body or mind alive forever (as explored in the new Amazon Prime comedy Upload), or in creating some kind of living memorial, like an AI-based robot or chatbot version of yourself, or of your loved one. The question is — should we do that? And if we do, what should it look like?

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‘It’s like you have a hand again’: A major breakthrough in robotic limb technology

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Grafting tiny bits of muscle to amputated nerves provides a way to control a robotic limb

Joe Hamilton intuitively controls a prosthetic hand using the Regenerative Peripheral Nerve Interface, or RPNI, in a lab on the University of Michigan Medical Campus. (Evan Dougherty/University of Michigan Engineering)

Researchers with the University of Michigan have announced a breakthrough in nerve-controlled prosthetic technology, which allows amputees the ability to control their hands and fingers precisely, intuitively, and in real time.

They’re claiming it as a major advancement in mind-controlled prosthetics.

“The idea of trying to get a prosthetic control signal from a nerve has been around at least as long as Empire Strikes Back,” Cindy Chestek told Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald. “It’s just been really hard to do because the physics is not in your favour.”

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Would you want immortal life as a cyborg?

Group of female robots close to each others cyborg army concept 3d rendering

Transhumanism can mean uploading one’s mind into cyberspace. But some transhumanists hope to slowly morph into “immortal cyborgs” with endlessly replaceable parts.

Five years ago, we were told, we were all turning into cyborgs:

Did you recently welcome a child into the world? Congratulations! An upstanding responsible parent such as yourself is surely doing all you can to prepare your little one for all the pitfalls life has in store. However, thanks to technology, children born in 2014 may face a far different set of issues than you ever had to. And we’re not talking about simply learning to master a new generation of digital doohickeys, we’re talking about living in a world in which the very definition of “human” becomes blurred.

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