- Neuralink makes a “Link” chip which is meant to be implanted in the brain by a robot surgeon.
- The Link chip is dubbed to cure mental illnesses as well as deal with morbid obesity and paralysis.
- After experiments with primates, FDA approval for human testing may be obtained in the next 6 months.
American billionaire and philanthropist Elon Musk is a prolific personality in the world of science, space, and technology. Currently, the richest man on Earth, the billionaire is known for his prowess in having his hands in multiple cookie jars.
The various enterprises representing his vision for the future range from his space exploration company, SpaceX to his sustainable energy automobile firm, Tesla. Another such exceptional venture is his company Neuralink.
What does Neuralink make?
Neuralink is the ambitious brainchild of Musk’s interest in experiments with biology-based computer interfaces. Neuralink is essentially a neuroscience company that has launched a brain chip, called the “Link”, which is almost the size of a large coin.
This chip is meant to be implanted inside one’s brain by a robotic surgeon and is meant to connect one’s brain to the digital world, starting with one’s very own smartphone. Musk famously called it a“Fitbit” in one’s brain.
According to Musk, as soon as the operation is successful and the time for recovery is completed, humans will gain the same powerful abilities as artificial intelligence(AI) bots such as Alexa or Siri. This means one will be able to surf a million websites in a matter of mere seconds.
What does Neuralink aim to cure?
Experts believe that by using the basic BCI(Brain-Computer interfaces), they can use electrodes to replicate the normal biological activity of neurons (nerve cells) in the brain.
This will even allow patients suffering from paralysis to send texts and shop from websites or simply use an electronic gadget, just by thinking about it.
In another therapeutic dimension, Neuralink believes it can also cure patients suffering from various mental illnesses. Their chip can help in reducing triggering impulses produced by the brain which cause anxiety and depression while also being able to tackle autism.
Also, the electrodes of this chip can help in firing non-functioning neurons of the brain which can help a patient with dementia regain even lost memories.
Musk also believes Neuralink will be successful in treating morbid obesity. Morbid obesity is a condition characterized by having a body mass index(BMI) greater than 30.
This is a form of clinically severe obesity which can itself result from conditions that cause increased fat storage by the body and is also correlated to the consumption of certain drugs such as antidepressants like tricyclic antidepressant drugs and other conditions such as hypothyroidism or goiter.
Obstacles along the way
Interestingly, the world got to witness a taste of Musk’s live-streaming brain implant in a live-streamed event back in 2021 through a segment called “Pigs in the Matrix.” On a giant screen, a real-time video of neurons firing in a test pig subject was played followed by a ringtone of the electrical activity in their brain.
However, since the event, Silicon Valley investors have been kept waiting for a further update on the company and its product which now seems too good to be true.
Neuralink’s journey hasn’t been devoid of its critics. Francesco Rubino, head of metabolic surgery at King’s College London, said brain implant technology seemed a promising avenue but a chip focussing solely on appetite reduction to treat obesity would likely be “set to fail.”
Appearing on Joe Rogan’s talk show, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Meta, joked that Musk and his company Neuralink won’t be embraced by “normal people” for an appreciable future.
Zuckerberg believes most regular people won’t like the idea of a Fitbit brain implant for at least 10-15 years. He reiterated that Neuralink would be ready in “a couple of decades.”
Moreover, the competition in the Brain-Computer Interface(BCI) company keeps on mounting as Max Hodak, an ex-employee and co-founder of Neuralink founded his own company.
After parting ways with Neuralink last year, Hodak has now emerged with his firm named Science Corp and unlike Neuralink his firm has successfully developed a prototype. Being called the “Science Eye” this product claims to cure blindness in test rabbits.
The massive advantage of Science Corp over Neuralink is it does not wish to drill holes in people’s skulls to implant a chip. The BCI technology of this firm relies on the science of photonics which uses light sent through a patient’s optic nerve to transmit information.
Although Musk has maintained his stance of being in talks with the FDA in the USA for approval for human testing of his Link chip after successfully testing on primates, the future does look hazy. According to sources, Musk may secure his approval in the coming 6 months but even so, it’s not without its demerits.
He is already facing flak from various animal support groups due to Neuralink’s experiments on primates which have been described as cruel, or in some alleged cases, gruesomely horrific. How feasible and compliant human testing will be is debatable.