It has been a few months since Elon Musk took the stage, in August of last year, to tell us about the Neuralink advances, one of his most personal projects, surely one of the most surprising and, to evolve as the South African billionaire claims, the one that can have the most direct impact in the medium term on the lives of many people. Some advances in which he deepened, a couple of months ago, in a talk at the Clubhouse.
The problem with Elon Musk, and I say that as a person who takes a lot of credit for a lot of what he has done, is that he has a tendency to inflate expectations every time he speaks. Therefore, although it is always worth paying attention to their statements, what is really interesting is not so much the words as the demonstrations of what they are working on. It has been like that with Tesla, with SpaceX and now it is also with Neuralink.
And it is that only a few hours ago, Neuralink has published, on its YouTube channel, a video in which we can see Pager, an adorable macaque mind controlling a game. How? By means of an implant used in the first instance to analyze the functioning of the primate brain when carrying out certain activities in order, once all the necessary data have been taken, to be able to interpret the brain signals, which in turn will trigger various actions.
As you can see in the video, during the first days Pager played using a joystick. In these play sessions, the primate’s brain activity was measured, looking for the association between its actions and the same. In other words, Neuralink’s software (with the work of its engineers, of course) learned to identify when the monkey’s brain wanted to make each move. After completing this apprenticeship, Pager was stripped of the joystick.
The desired effect was, of course, that the Neuralink implant was able to recognize movements as they were gestated in the brain, and that the game responded accordingly. In this way, simply by thinking about what move he wanted to make, Pager could see how the game reacted and acted according to his wishes.
While it is true that this is not the first experiment in this sense, it does show for many researchers that Neuralink is following a proper research sequence, and current results project good prospects for Musk’s project. In addition, and unlike previous tests, this is the first wireless brain-machine interface, and this has two important advantages over the wired models that have been tested so far:
- Wired interfaces are a dangerous pathway, which can allow all kinds of pathogens to reach the brain from the outside. Neuralink’s wireless interface avoids this risk, which is one of those that has most affected the development of this type of interface.
- The elimination of cables makes it more feasible to use this type of technology with, for example, prostheses and other elements that can make life easier for people with some types of disabilities. Eliminating cables substantially reduces day-to-day complexity for people who can use these systems.
There is undoubtedly still a long way to go, but there is no doubt that the possibilities that the brain-machine interface of Neuralink opens up are countless and, as I said at the beginning, they could be used to improve the quality of life of many people. And with that perspective in mind, I can’t help but wish this project a lot, a lot of success.