What is Neuralink?
The coin-sized Neuralink device, called a Link, is implanted flush with the skull by a precision surgical robot. The robot connects a thousand miniature threads from the Link to certain neurons. Each thread is a quarter the diameter of a human hair.
The device connects to an external computer by Bluetooth for continuous communication back and forth.
In the future, Neuralink prostheses might help people with various kinds of neurological disorders where there is a disconnect or malfunction between the brain and the nerves that serve the body. That includes people with paraplegia, quadriplegia, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy.
Since its establishment in 2016, Neuralink has been recruiting top-class neuroscientists from academia and the broader research community to develop the technology to treat these conditions.
Neuralink’s monkey can play Pong with his mind
In April 2021, the company released a remarkable proof-of-concept video. It showed a nine-year-old macaque monkey called Pager successfully playing a game of Pong with his mind, by having an implanted Neuralink device connected to a computer running the game.
Pager the monkey played the computer game Pong with his mind. Pixabay.
Pager was shown how to play Pong using a joystick. When he made a correct move, he’d receive a sip of banana smoothie.
As he played, the Neuralink implant recorded the patterns of electrical activity in his brain. This identified which neurons controlled which movements.
When the joystick was disconnected, Pager was able to play the game and win using only his mind.
Neuralink’s monkey can play Pong with its mind. Imagine what humans could do with the same technology https://t.co/6C6EJU3H5x via @ConversationEDU
— David Tuffley (@DavidTuffley) April 14, 2021
Human trials to further develop the Neuralink prototype are expected to commence towards the end of 2022, contingent on the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.
Musk’s tinnitus claims
Elon Musk has claimed the Neuralink device could cure tinnitus by 2027.
Tinnitus is a neurological condition that manifests as a ringing or buzzing in the ears in the absence of an external source.
Tinnitus is a common problem, caused when the nerve that connects the inner ear with the brain, known as the vestibulocochlear nerve, is damaged due to prolonged loud noise, injury, or deficiencies in blood supply.
A cure for tinnitus has proven elusive. Treatment currently centers on masking the sound or learning to ignore it.
At present, the Neuralink prosthesis connects to the cerebral cortex, the surface layer of the brain. This is where the device can remedy damage to the brain’s ability to process motor sensory input or output.
Are Musk’s claims credible?