Musk reveals the “FitBit in your skull with tiny wires”
On Aug. 28, Elon Musk and his Neuralink team revealed their latest technology with a demo featuring pigs implanted with a brain chip device. Musk referred to this device as the “FitBit in your skull with tiny wires,” because it’s designed to track, monitor and record your brainwaves, with the potential for an individual to have more control over their brain.
“The Three Little Pigs” demo featured a pig with no implant, a pig with a Neuralink implant currently in their brain and a pig that had their Neuralink implant removed to demonstrate reversibility (the implant would not affect someone’s happiness if they wanted to remove it or upgrade to a newer device). Musk also showed a few pigs that had multiple Neuralink implants in their brain simultaneously.
When showcasing the pig with the Neuralink implant, he explained a series of beeps as the neural spikes coming from the pig’s brain when it sniffed the environment with its snout.
Neuralink also presented their research with pigs walking on treadmills, observing that different parts of a pig’s brain may require different levels of electrical stimulation to engage that part of the brain, or prevent long-term damage.
While Neuralink implants are currently not available for humans, the idea is that a sophisticated robot will implant a Neuralink device into your skull and relay signals wirelessly from 1024 electrodes. Neuralink is trying to make this technology available to treat people with neural disorders and help people suffering from paralysis to regain body movement.
While this isn’t the first brain computer interface (BCI) on the market, Musk is passionate about taking his technology to the next level with abilities like replaying one’s memories or even telepathy. However, enabling these features is not as easy as one may think.
Previous neurotechnology has been used to treat varying conditions of paralysis, allowing those with implanted sensors to use their brain signals to operate computers or robotic arms. From a medical standpoint, this technology proves itself effective with simple movements that are wired in everyone’s brain.
However, scientists say that when it comes down to the uniqueness of individual brain cells, calibrating a brain chip device to read someone’s mind to its full extent would be extremely difficult. While Musk believes it’s possible to condition the human brain to activate certain brain cells to control the BCI, researchers say our brain might not be as flexible as we think.
But, regardless of whether this is possible or not, Neuralink gets its popularity from promising to bring this neurotechnology to the masses, allowing everyone, not just medical patients, to be implanted with this device. These far-fetched promises seem to be a common theme for Musk and his startups.
For example, with his company Tesla, Musk promised to have fully autonomous cars on the road by 2020, including a robotaxi, which allows a Tesla owner to use their car as a driverless taxi when they’re not using it themselves.
While Musk has developed a Level 2 autonomous car, requiring the driver to be alert with their hands on the wheel, we have yet to see Tesla maximize their full potential with Level 5 autonomous cars that don’t require any human attention.
Some have said that Musk preys on the hopeful and optimistic, and with TV shows like Black Mirror, he is bringing imaginary technology to the real world. However, medical science is not held back by a lack of dreams. Science takes time and requires collaboration, but Musk often has ideas and expects to get results as successful as companies like Apple or Google.
I don’t question Musk’s intelligence (he’s a genius), but his methods of producing and using technology are designed to create excitement and hype for him and his companies. While it’s important to market your product and attract new audiences, I don’t know if it’ll be possible to telepathically summon my Tesla in my lifetime.