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Neuralink: Enhancing Human Intelligence through AI

Human machine interaction has always been a hot topic, specifically after the advent of Artificial intelligence. The social impact of such interactions is huge to say the very least. AI has more often than not has taken inspiration from the biological neural-architectures to be able enough, to do a significant number of tasks, tasks at which, it is now able to outperform the biological neurons as well [1]. There have been a number of attempts [2] to utilise AI to enhance human capabilities through Brain-machine-interfaces or BMIs [3] . Historically the integration of the BMIs into the human skull has been quite an invasive process. The normal procedures generally required a complete surgery, where the skull was cut open and the electrodes inserted into the brain tissue with the opening then sewed back together. The procedure was not only invasive and complicated in nature but also ran the risk of catching an infection or can be the catalyst for a stroke for the individual receiving it [4].

Why Neuralink is so special:

Neuralink has looked at all of these limitations and in accordance with the vision of their founder and owner Elon Musk have come up with a solution that is relatively non-invasive and procedurally safer in comparison to the existing techniques. In order to understand more about that we will need to understand how the setup exactly work. The main driving force behind the idea is the ability of these electrode implanted into the brain, to capture the activity of the neurons in the region, the vision is to connect to a small device wirelessly, the device is to be small enough to fit behind the ear but powerful enough to capture and process the incoming data. The wireless connection is achieved through a tiny implant inside of the brain. The injector for the probes can be seen in the image below:

Robotic electrode inserter

The second image below demonstrates the size of the electronic chipset used in the making of the complete set with USB connection for power and data transfer etc. One more important factor that differentiates Neuralink from the existing frameworks is the sheer number of electrodes that are being used to capture the activity of the neurons. It is not surprising that more electrodes are considerably better at capturing the activity as they are able to cover a higher number of neurons.

The chipset for the wireless implant set
Source:[5]

One Step Closer to Create Cybernetic Organs?

One interesting aspect in the vision for Neuralink in comparison to other BMIs is, that Neuralink envisions a bi-directional framework whereby we have not only the brain simulation received and interpreted by a device but also we are able to actually simulate the neurons back in the form of a feedback or an additional input from the outside environment, possibly a setup where we are able to pass on commands to the machine by just thinking about it, the machine can then give us the feedback about the nature or the state of the task that it was expected to perform. A crude example of this can be a patient with a severed limb who is able to connect to a robotic arm just by thinking about performing a task (say grabbing a glass of water), the sensors then can send feedback from the pressure detectors on the robotic hand and the controller is able to adjust the pressure in accordance with the same.

Imagine being able to calculate an enormous sum, just by thinking about it or searching something on google, just by thinking about it. This would increase the rate of knowledge absorption and thus soar mankind into a new age. I would imagine a day when we are able to instant message each other just by thought alone. While this amazing technology would bring people closer, it would raise concerns of hacking and privacy. The repercussions could range from simple privacy invasion to brain influence (early mind control).

Neuralink device design.

The Procedure

The procedure that makes this really effective is that in accordance with our discussion above we can do a relatively less intrusive transplant of the electrodes into the brain and therefore reduce the possibility of developing complications arising out of the more intrusive implants. Neuralink uses a state of the art design for its inserter as well as the needle. The sheer size of the same can be baffling, given the level of accuracy that is being expected out of it. The size and step by step demonstration of the steps involved in the implanting of an electrode thread into the skull like structure is demonstrated in the image below:

The injection process for the electrodes in steps
Source: [6]

Summary

All said and done the concept is significantly young as of today, the possibilities and the initial results seem to be quite significantly promising. If we are able to do something down the similar lines it will be once in a generation technical event, where we will for the first time be able to witness the extraordinary capabilities of a combined human and machine interfaces. Such synergies can actually shape the future quite literally, where the synergies in the human and machines will enhance our capabilities and blur the lines between artificial and natural intelligence.

References :

1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/ais-ability-to-read-hailed-as-historical-milestone-but-computers-arent-quite-there/2018/01/16/04638f2e-faf6-11e7-a46b-a3614530bd87_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.01481b9b6e72

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain%E2%80%93computer_interface

3. https://www.nature.com/subjects/brain-machine-interface

4. https://www.bioedge.org/bioethics/elon-musk-and-his-neurotech-start-up-are-trialling-brain-decoding-implants/13147

5. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2019/07/18/703801/F5.medium.gif

6. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2019/07/18/703801/F4.large.jpg?width=800&height=600&carousel=1

7. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2019/07/18/703801/F3.medium.gif

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