Just think to control your phone, Neuralink just upgraded the first human!

    Neuralink was created as a medtech company to design and develop brain implants that could help people who have physical injuries or disabilities to live better lives. The technology has massive potential to not only improve those disadvantaged but also to offer improvements on human capabilities in the long term.

    Despite all the science and technology we have, the brain still remains somewhat of a mystery. Responsible for memory, creativity, problem-solving, imagination and so much more, we understand higher-level concepts, but understanding at a level where you could inject control inputs into the brain is something we’ve never seen before.

    Today, Musk announced that Neuralink had made a major step forward in their progress, human trials. For the past few years, the team had used animals to develop the technology of reading brain waves and at times, injecting commands to see how the animal responded.

    It is likely the volunteer had to sign their life away in lengthy legal disclosures, but should be thought of as a hero, for being brave enough to subject themselves to science for the benefit of many to follow.

    Neuralink is developing implantable brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). These tiny devices, surgically inserted into the brain, aim to record and transmit neural signals wirelessly. Imagine controlling a cursor, smartphone, or even a prosthetic limb with your thoughts alone. That’s the ultimate goal.

    Musk announced that the first human received the Neuralink implant yesterday and is recovering well. Based on what we know from the sheep trials previously, one or more circular pieces of the skull were removed and the Neuralink chip was inserted, after having hundreds of tiny electrical nodes attached to different parts of the brain. Not only can these nodes receive electric signals and read the brand, but they can also produce signals to provide input to the brain, which in turn can control the rest of the body.

    Musk goes on to say that the first product is called Telepathy but doesn’t detail the technical specs of the first-generation Neuralink.

    The system enables the control of your phone or computer (presumably connected via Bluetooth), and through almost any device, just by thinking. This suggests you could think about turning on your IOT devices in your smart home (lights, watering system, blinds, robot vacuum etc) and it’d just happen as if you tapped the buttons.

    It’ll be important to understand the limitations of the system, for which I’m sure there are many, given this is really just the start. The chip wouldn’t be picking up the optic nerve, so unlikely to be detecting what you’re looking at, instead it must be relying on monitoring your thoughts (who knows where that happens in the brain) and applying that to outputs via Bluetooth. I expect this would need a mobile app that has low-level access unless they’re doing text-to-voice and leveraging voice assistant to enact the action.

    It is likely the phone or computer would need to be unlocked, so there is that hurdle to get passed as well.

    At first, Neuralink will focus on benefiting those who have lost the use of their limbs. Musk goes on to suggest they are targeting super-human communication performance, faster than a speed typist, or auctioneer… that is the goal. If it can be shown to be done safely, is reversible and affordable, then I think Neuralink may have many customers lining up to become a cyborg, part human, part machine.

    The Road Ahead for Neuralink won’t be easy, expect many setbacks and potentially even some deaths as a result of this ambitious technology. As concerning as that may be for some, regulatory hurdles are there to protect people and will ensure ethical considerations are addressed.

    Those who are volunteering are much like those who volunteer to go to space, you know there’s a high likelihood of a negative outcome, but do it anyway for a chance to improve humanity and in this case, by some margin.

    Jason Cartwright
    Jason Cartwright
    Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021

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