Neuralink's products will enable people with disabilities to use technology with their thoughts.
Elon Musk’s company Neuralink showed a monkey that was able to control the cursor on the computer screen while playing ping-pong with the power of thought. The animal has a wireless N1 Link device implanted in the motor cortex of both hemispheres of the brain.
In 2020, Elon Musk’s company Neuralink demonstrated a pig with a chip implanted into the sensory cortex of the brain, which recorded and wirelessly transmitted somatosensory signals from the brain of an animal exploring the environment to a computer in real-time.
The chip was placed in an area of the cortex that processed the tactile sensations from the pig’s face. The company created a wireless version of the chip based on a similar wired device presented in 2019.
The company pursued research in this area and the development of a brain-computer interface in order to ultimately allow people with paralysis to directly use their neural activity to quickly and easily control personal computers and mobile devices.
Now Neuralink has implanted the same wireless device, called the N1 Link, in the brain of a monkey named Pager, or rather, in the area of the motor cortex of the two hemispheres, which is responsible for planning and executing movements of the arms and hands. Then the monkey was taught to play ping-pong on the computer using a joystick for a delicious reward – a banana smoothie.
How does the Neuralink chip work?
When an animal is engaged in a game, its motor neurons are not activated in the same way and simultaneously, but modulate their activity depending on the nature of the monkey’s hand movements. For example, some become more active when the animal raises the hand up, and others when the hand moves down, the same is true for movement to the right and left.
A registered surge in the electrical activity of a neuron in response to a certain stimulus is called an evoked potential, N1 Link automatically detects these electrical signals and transmits them via Bluetooth to a computer running special decoding software every 25 milliseconds.
Using this data, scientists create a mathematical model of the relationship between various patterns of neural activity and the nature of movement and based on this model, the direction and speed of the upcoming movement of the monkey’s hand are predicted, and then these predictions are used to control the movements of the computer cursor in real-time.
And by turning off the joystick, the scientists made sure that Pager continues to play his favorite game with the help of the power of thought or decoded neural activity, but the monkey, out of habit, still moves the joystick and his hand.
The monkeys are healthy and have no movement disorders, so scientists can calibrate the decoder by matching the patterns of neural activity with real movements of the animal, but this strategy cannot be used for people with paralysis.
In view of this, at the next stage of the experiment, the joystick was completely removed, but the Pager was still able to continue playing, and the monkey also coped with the game when it was slightly complicated by increasing the speed of the ball. The authors call this game mental ping pong.
As Neuralink notes in his blog, previous research by the BrainGate consortium has shown that neurons in the motor cortex remain tuned to move even in paralyzed people, and a person just needs to imagine a mouse moving on a mat or a finger on it to calibrate the decoder.
First @Neuralink product will enable someone with paralysis to use a smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 9, 2021
And then the paralyzed person can type emails and text messages, surf the web, or do anything that can be done with a computer, just thinking about how he wants the cursor to move. To this, Elon Musk added in his tweet that N1 Link will allow a paralyzed person to use a smartphone faster than someone who uses thumbs.
In parallel with this, the BrainGate consortium published a study on March 30 this year in which scientists presented a report on a successful home test of a wireless brain-computer interface. The trials involved two men with tetraplegia, a disorder or loss of function in the arms, trunk, legs, and pelvic organs due to spinal cord injury.
As the Neuralink researchers suggested, the BrainGate scientists were able to tune the system when their subjects simply imagined moving. The wireless device enabled participants to use a tablet computer to browse the web and use several mobile applications.
And a group of scientists from Duke University, using the capabilities of the brain-computer interface, combined the brains of three monkeys into a single distributed system. This monkey system was able to perform various functions in parallel and synchronize its efforts to achieve results without using direct communication.
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• Hamilton, I. A. (2021, April 09). Elon Musk’s brain chip Company NEURALINK released video of monkey playing video games with its mind.
• Neuralink. (n.d.). The first fully-implanted 1000+ channel brain-machine interface.
• Reuters Staff. (2021, April 09). Elon Musk’s NEURALINK Shows monkey With brain-chip playing Videogame by thinking.