We’re all about to start controlling technology with our minds, according to NeuraLink

After essentially going through generational childhoods watching futuristic movies and hitherto man-machine advancements in technology, humanity is finally amid extraordinary transformations. The half-human half-machine interface that is the entirety of what Neuralink is all about (we’ll get to this right after) is Elon Musk’s grand scheme to cure us of the well-documented insecurities of a robot awakening that we amplify with such apocalyptic relish. By integrating our neural ecosystem with machines, we will continue to have the control we’re so desperate not to lose. Hold your thought if you think this is another one of those half-discarded concepts that exist, speculatively, in silicon valley because a monkey can already play games with its mind after getting a Neuralink implant. According to Mr. Musk, human testing is also about to start. So, is this the future we’ve all been waiting for? Or will Neuralink fizzle out due to the very obvious gaps that still need to be filled in Neuroscience?

On 8th April 2020, during a presentation on his startup company, Neuralink, South African-born billionaire and Engineer, Elon Musk, outlined the full intentions of what he is hoping the company can achieve in the next couple of years: to make man interact fully with machines.

How?

By implanting a superior neural chip into the human brain to allow us to communicate wirelessly with gadgets. During the speech, Musk, always on his captivating personality, explained that the company intends to first “understand and treat brain disorders” along with “preserving and enhancing our brain” as well as “creating a well-aligned future”

As groundbreaking and revolutionary as all of these might sound, he isn’t the first to thread in this direction.

In 1943, two young, brilliant minds in Warren McCulloch, a neurologist, and Walter Pitts, a mathematician, wrote a paper on how the neurons in the human brain might work. A few years later, John Von Neumann illustrated Neuron’s function by using vacuum tubes and telegraph relays. Eb Fetz, currently a researcher at the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE), demonstrated in 1969 that Monkeys could heighten the signals in their brains to control a metallic needle that moved on a dial.

The works and research of these guys – along with so many others – have effectively laid a foundation for what Elon Musk is trying to achieve with Neuralink.

And if the motivation on understanding Neuron function was to find biological pathways to help people with disabilities find a second meaning, the Tesla owner’s speech indicates that it now transcends beyond all of that and into a human cyborg integration that will allow us interact with technology – inside our heads!

Facebook (now Meta) CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, may have been one of the million Americans watching Musk’s presentation with keener observation. Only a few months ago, he disclosed his version of a human and technology iteration when he announced Metaverse – a new reality of a virtual world where everything is connected digitally.

So, there is no denying that we are well and truly about to witness a new order. Life, as we know it, may just be about to change.

Yet, as much as there is a lot of buzz around Neuralink and the things it has set out to achieve, there exist, still, several forces ranged against it.

A lot of Neuroscientists would question the chance of ever completely identifying over a billion neurons in the human brain and isolating them to function in complementary fashion alongside a chip inside our heads. Why? It’s simple: Neurons communicate with one another through a highly sophisticated interchange of electrical signals and chemical reactions. This native electro-chemical parlance can be deciphered using electrical circuits, but it takes a lot of processes.

Likewise, when we give feedback to the brain using electrical impulses, it is with huge electrical emphasis. This makes it confusing for neurons to discern what the stimulation is trying to communicate amid all the other neural actions that are ongoing.

There is also the biological barrier of the brain’s notorious reputation for being profoundly unreceptive of external objects into its habitat. Its soft and fragile tissue could also end up being seriously scarred if any kind of complications should arise.

Nonetheless, at this moment, the concept of Neuralink has offered itself as the technological advancement that is earmarked to increase human brainpower. To form the foundation of a future shaped by artificial general intelligence and ranging in force from helping people with disabilities live better lives to understanding Neurological diseases and how to treat them to controlling gadgets with our minds.

Hold your thought if you think this is another one of those half-discarded concepts that exist, speculatively, in silicon valley because a monkey can already play games with its mind after getting a Neuralink implant. According to Mr. Musk, human testing is also about to start.

It allows us to believe in the possibility of a truly optimized man: a whole-brain interface, as Elon Musk has referred to it, which gives our brain the capacity to correspond information wirelessly with technology, with the cloud, with computers, and, excitingly, with the brains of anyone who has a relatable interface inside their head.

This sequence of information going on between our brains and the outside world should feel quite natural – it should feel similar to your thoughts at this moment right now.

Now, despite the seemingly speculative account of some concepts of Neuralink, there is no denying the success of the early innovation and the prospect of what is to come. For one, Neuroscientists are already buzzing about the superiority of Musk’s implant device technology.

The Neuralink chip contains an array of 96 tiny, flexible electrode threads with 32 independent arrays per thread which add up to 3,072 electrodes per array.

To put it into context, the standard tool right now is the Utah Array – a single chip that has 64 electrodes. Comparing it to Musk’s technology which not only is smaller (a very important factor in the technology finally residing in the human brain) but has 1,000 electrodes in a single chip.

That’s almost 10 times better than anything that currently exists.

Additionally, earlier research with deep brain stimulation has currently enabled for regulation of computer cursors, automated limbs, speech synthesizers, etc – all of which used no more than 256 electrodes. Musk’s implant has over 1000.

Think about the possibilities.

For example, with Neuralink’s technology, the use of an implant thread with many electrodes allows for a significant improvement of Neural channel movements over previous brain-machine technology.

This increased amount of electrodes is adequate for premium accuracy in the classification and translation of neural activities in the brain while also supporting an improvement in the transfer of a high volume of data that the brain can analyze to treat some disorders.

The Neuralink team, having experimented with several polymers and periodic elements for the production of a materially suitable implant chip, settled for a biocompatible polyimide film trace as the most viable choice.

Each of the polyimide threads contains an electrode as well as a sensor technology that helps to amplify signals in the brain. The idea of polymer threads for the chip is to improve biocompatibility and also to reduce any negative reactions with the brain tissues.

This is an indication that the next stage of getting the chip into the human brain is right at our doorstep.

What is spectacular about Neuralink is the margins for its operation always seem to be expanding. Humans have naturally had an unquenchable, almost congenital zest to discover the unknown. If this company finally fulfills its potentials and Musk achieves his dream of fully integrating man with machine, it will be because, with every obstacle that threatens its workability, there is a discernable vigor to overcome.

So, Neuroscientists doubted the credibility of any metal that wouldn’t enter into the brain without some consequence; Musk and his team developed a biocompatible polyimide film. By doing this, he has survived one of his biggest theoretical challenges – that of compatibility, which argues that the human brain is a no-entry zone for foreign substances it knows nothing about – because there is a vibrancy and determination to achieve the company’s objective.

Neuralink is very suited to present-day’s fast-paced, hyper-connected digital social interactions, where people from across the world are thinking linearly.

It would also be deeply energizing to those who use it – physical disabilities would be a thing of the past, there could be an assurance to cure brain disorders, a mortal/physical connection with technology that, quite frankly, we already cannot do without.

I reiterate: the possibilities are endless.

At the moment – although there’s still a lot of work to be done – Neuralink’s chances continue to look increasingly promising. What once seemed an enormous complexity has reproduced itself, through advancements, into a concept about to be birthed into the world. It is the story of the forward motion of human progress. Fire. Oral Language. Electricity. Industrial Revolution. Technology. And now a whole-brain interface.

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Jibril Baba is an architect in love with the ancestral art of Sprezzatura.

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Jibril Baba

Jibril Baba

Jibril Baba is an architect in love with the ancestral art of Sprezzatura.

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