After Watching Elon Musk’s Neuralink Launch Event Recruiting Video from the California Academy of Sciences Morrison Planetarium on YouTube the other day we must say amazing.
This was an event designed to recruit and entice people to work for Neuralink on the project that is in the process of literally creating a connection from the Brain to an iPhone App.
That is incredible if you are in a position and have an opportunity to work with the incredibly talented team that they have already put together.
This story starts with the explanation of the initial goal of Neuralink wanting to have a paralyzed person operate an iPhone app then keyboard and mouse but ends with much more.
Mr. Musk describes in the Recruiting Video that “If you survive Cancer or Heart Disease odds are that you or someone you know will have some brain-related disorder like Alzheimer’s or dementia. From the physiological effects and after the aggressive treatment cancer patients get; I have first-hand experience, have researched it extensively, and agree, as it is true.
For myself 5 years ago, I would have said why, but now so far surviving Stage 4 Throat Caner in 2015/16, I understand. I have suffered from extensive “Chemo Brain” and been fighting through it ever since.
According to Philip Sabes Senior Scientist at Neuralink “Brain-Machine Interfaces (BMI’s) are rooted in over a century of Neuroscience and decades of Neural Engineering research.”
They have been researching since the 1970s on Brain-Computer Interfaces and originally started at UCLA under a grant from the National Science Foundation, followed by a contract from DARPA.
This research with connecting different kinds of brain and technology interfaces so a person with paralyzed legs can walk or for different paraplegic issues and people with debilitating brain injuries.
Neuralink has designed an 8mm X 4mm Hermetic Substrate (MBI) Machine Brain Interface called and N1 Sensor that is attached to your skull and wired to your brain.
The wires/threads are extremely thin and are 5 microns wide so they cannot be placed by Human hands and will have to be placed by the Surgical Robot that they created for this procedure.
The surgical robot will be guided by a human neurosurgeon but the actual procedure itself will be performed by the robot due to the movement of the brain through heartbeat and breathing and any movement caused by the patient.
The N1 Implant will be placed in one hemisphere of the brain starting with (4) sensors, (3) three in motor areas and (1) one in Somatosensory area locations. Eventually, they believe they will eventually be able to place (10) ten.
The very small wires are tunneled under the scalp to an inductive coil behind the ear. That will then connect wirelessly through the skin to a wearable device they call the link.
The Link contains a Bluetooth Link and a battery and this is the only Bluetooth link and battery in the system so if you take off the Link or Pod it shuts off the implants and the system. Therefore, if there are software upgrades or security issues it is much easier to upgrade the firmware on the Link/pod than change the implants.
The next bit of information is incredible and that is that it will be controlled by an iPhone App. You will not have to go to a doctor’s office to use it but you will have to learn how to use it.
According to Max Hodack President of Neuralink “Imagine if you never had arms, then suddenly you have an arm and you have to pick up a glass on the table. It is not a cognitive task so how do you think your way through that.
It’s kind of a trippy experience at the beginning for patients at first, it just wanders around and they figure out how to break the symmetry and they learn how to control it and it’s a long process and it’s like learning to touch type or play the piano.”
According to Max Hodack from this process, they are looking for “closed-loop feedback into primary somatosensory cortex.
This is as if when you type, walk, or pick up a pen, these are not necessarily visually guided movements because your body has all these senses of where it is in space, pressure, and temperature and lots of other feedback.
We think for really high fluid control you will have to provide that back to the brain for synthetic effectors also and of course, it will be fully wireless”
Dr. Mathew McDougall's head Neurosurgeon at Neuralink says that the ultimate goal of the Neuralink N1 Surgical Implant Process is to be on an outpatient basis like Lasik Eye Surgery.
No scars, no hospital stays or long procedures and not under conscious sedation without the complexities of general anesthesia. The first Neuralink patients experience though will be more like traditional Neurosurgery.
Each one of these vertical filaments that ends in a loop is an electrode that is called a thread and will be implanted directly into the brain using the Neuralink robot during the surgery.
Philip Sabes Senior Scientist at Neuralink says that Neuralink believes that even more advanced applications are possible with more advanced devices.
This photo shows the Brain at work; each line is connected to a single Thread electrode and each trace shows you a voltage waveform in time as it is coming off one of those threads.
Below shows, one of those traces voltage Spikes and the data below that shows each one of those tick marks is a Spike Raster. These occur when a Neuron has an action potential and this is the fundamental element of communication within the brain.
This is what the Neuralink Algorithms tap into in real-time as they are happening. Each row there represents one channel of recording and time goes from left to right and each one of those little tick marks is the time of a single spike action potential.
Neuralink's first applications will be to allow paralyzed individuals to use an iPhone app to control a computer's keyboard and mouse. As it progresses, they believe they can have a paralyzed person get naturalistic control over not just a keyboard or mouse but create synthetic speech, game controllers, and other devices.
Therefore, there is no reason in principle that they cannot reach all of the Motor Cortex of the Brain and that would give them access to any movement a person can do. A person could imagine running or dancing or even Kung Fu and they would be able to decode that signal.
If the technology for spinal cord nerve or muscle stimulation gets far enough ultimately it could be used to restore control of an individual’s body.
Neuralink does not just want to read information out of the brain, they want Bi-Directional Information and to be able to put information back into the brain.
If you put an electrode next to a cell and pass a tiny amount of electrical current through that electrode, you can activate cells nearby and cause them to cause an action potential of one or many cells.
This is a technology already in use widely for the brain for instance in Cochlear Implants for the ears. This is been used for decades to restore hearing to the death and more recently in the eye to restore vision to the blind.
The Neuralink Link / Pod is very similar to Cochlear Implants with attachment to the skull and around the ear.
With the current state of Closed-Loop Therapies, (DBS) Deep Brain Stimulation, and current Deep Brain Stimulation large electrodes, not only are there already systems utilizing this technology for treating some of the diseases below but Neuralink feels that they can do a better job with a wider array of small electrode access to the brain.
Neuralink will utilize an individualized highly focused treatment that will reach broader patient populations and be more effective in the way they treat these disorders.
Beyond not just utilizing sensory input and motor output but thought. There are parts of the brain like the Hippocampus that encodes what you are thinking. The Hippocampus is involved in memory formations and stores sporadic memory or things that you remember from your life.
As Neuralink states that as it gets more experience with the way, the brain characterizes information and the encoding methods, and as they learn to interpret these depictions and applications and how they will work, it leads to the next successive steps.
As the device, technology gets better and better and they get more experience with those devices they and other researchers will be able to utilize those advance to reach other brain areas and other applications.
Neuroscience has already shown that a variety of information content is readily available in the brain and that there are signals that not only encode speech and language but mood, pain, hunger and thirst, memory and other essential human functions like mathematical reasoning.
Neuralinks states that its ultimate goal is to give people the ability to freely tap into those signal representations connections, get access to, and use that information.
Neuralink does not talk about Artificial Intelligence in the Neuralink Launch Event Recruiting Video and this does not necessarily start or end with artificial intelligence.
We find it highly likely with listening to Elon Musk speak on the subject of his fears of the future of Artificial Intelligence and a kind of “If you can't beat them, join them” scenario.
With the bi-directional transfer of data to the human brain as will be achieved with Neuralink, the integration and use of artificial intelligence in combination with or over and above something like Neuralink is not implied as to the ultimate goal, but we will see.
The story of the Smartphone is so amazing and interesting it would be hard to make all of this up. It is so intricately entwined in the ingenuity of humanity and the necessity to continue to discover and grow as a species. There is always hope!
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