Elon Musk's Neuralink division has made headlines once again with its claim to have successfully implanted its first wireless brain chip into a human. While the concept of sticking electrodes into brain tissue is not new, implantable technology has taken time to mature. Neuralink is one of several companies and university departments working to refine and commercialize this technology, with a focus on paralysis and complex neurological conditions.
The human brain consists of billions of neurons connected by synapses, and scientists have developed devices that can detect and interpret the electrical impulses generated by these neurons. Neuralink's device, about the size of a coin, is implanted in the skull and uses microscopic wires to read neuron activity and transmit a wireless signal. The company has conducted trials in pigs and claimed that monkeys can play a basic version of the video game Pong using the device.
Neuralink received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for human trials in May 2023, and the first patient has already received an implant. However, details about the patient and the results are limited. Neuralink faces competition from a start-up called Synchron, which has already implanted its device into 10 patients.
While the potential applications of this technology are exciting, some experts express skepticism. They question the practicality of invasive surgery for consumer benefits such as ordering a pizza. Instead, they suggest the initial uses may be in stimulating the brain to address problems like depression and dementia. Additionally, experts point out the challenges of customization and the need for regular updates or replacements of the implanted chip.
Elon Musk envisions a future where the technology allows humans to communicate with computers and electronic devices more seamlessly. He has discussed the possibility of ordering takeaways, searching the internet, and even saving and replaying memories using the brain chip. However, many experts believe that such advanced applications are decades away.
Overall, while the progress made by Neuralink and other companies in the field of brain-computer interfaces is fascinating, it is important to recognize that there are still significant hurdles to overcome before this technology becomes widely accessible. The long-term goal of enhancing human-AI symbiosis remains a topic of debate, with some seeing it as necessary for protecting humanity from the risks of AI, while others question its practicality and ethical implications.