Elon Musk's Next Neuralink Demo Is Coming. Here's How to Watch

Elon Musk’s Next Neuralink Demo Is Coming. Here’s How to Watch

Get ready for an update Wednesday from Neuralink, the Elon Musk-founded startup that’s making implants to directly connect our brains to computers. The company plans a “show and tell” event at which we’ll likely hear about the progress since last year’s “mind Pong” demonstration.

Musk’s long-term ambitions for Neuralink are about as sci-fi as it gets: “With a high-bandwidth brain-machine interface, I think we can … effectively have the option of merging with AI,” he said in 2019.

But for now the company envisions projects like helping people with paralysis to type, and bypassing spinal cord injuries that keep people from walking. That could mean links in the spinal cord, not just in brains. Musk said in an April tweet that “We’re working on bridging broken links between brain & body” to “restore full body functionality.”

Neuralink didn’t comment on what it’ll show Wednesday or exactly when the event will take place. But Musk’s companies typically stream their events online, usually in the evenings in California, so your best bet right now is to check Neuralink’s Twitter feed for schedule information and Neuralink’s YouTube page for the event itself.

Don’t be surprised to hear Musk promising civilization-changing advances. He has some cred when it comes to revolutionary technology, with his electric-vehicle company Tesla profoundly changing cars and his SpaceX outfit transforming space access with reusable rockets. But his reputation as a tech genius has taken a beating with the chaos at Twitter after his $44 billion acquisition.

Neuralink doesn’t look any easier than social networking. Connecting computer hardware to our own wetware comes with enormous technical, regulatory and ethical challenges.

Neuralink isn’t alone in trying to wire us to computers, a field called brain-machine interfaces (BMI) or brain-computer interfaces (BCI). There’s a steady stream of academic interest, and work at companies such as Synchron, Paradromics and BlackRock Neurotech. Some efforts hope to interface digitally with the brain using noninvasive external hardware instead of invasive surgical procedures.

Neuralink progress

Neuralink has made some headway. In 2019, the company debuted its first designs for an implant that would lace 1,024 tiny wires into a patch of brain, listening to the brain cells’ electrical activity and sending its own. In 2020, Neuralink revealed plans for a coin-size, battery-powered N1 chip implant and showed its devices listening in on the brain activity of a snuffling pig. In 2021, Neuralink showed a monkey playing “mind Pong,” controlling the classic video game with its mind.

With mind Pong, Neuralink technology interpreted brain signals that the monkey used to control its hands. So far, we haven’t seen any Neuralink demonstrations of a computer sending signals to a brain.

In 2021, Neuralink raised $205 million from investors including Google, Vy Capital and OpenAI research lab Chief Executive Sam Altman. It’s expanding now, with dozens of job openings in robotics, surgery, programming, materials, veterinary care and manufacturing.

A key part of Neuralink’s approach is a surgical robot designed to drop electrodes into the brain, steering past blood vessels to avoid bleeding.

Another challenge will be human trials. The company’s 2019 plan was to begin human trials in 2020. It’s still working toward that goal, now trying to hire a clinical research coordinator.

Other challenges include interfacing with enough of the brain’s 80 billion or so neurons to be useful and developing implants that don’t degrade or trigger our immune systems to reject them.

So don’t expect to be able to type with your mind or pal around with a superintelligent AI anytime soon. But with all the medical applications and research around the world, don’t dismiss brain-machine interfaces as mere science fiction.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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