This site published an article back in 2019 on “smart chips for the brain.” It quoted Northwestern University neuroscientist and business professor Dr. Moran Cerf saying, “In as little as five years, super smart people could be walking down the street; men and women who’ve paid to increase their intelligence.”
Well, here we are, five years later. … and at the end of January, Elon Musk announced on Twitter (X) that the first human had received a Neuralink implant, a device called Telepathy. We’re not sure if he is super smart yet. But if Telepathy works as planned, he may have a variety of new capabilities.
Neuralink is not the first company to develop brain-machine interfaces.
People have understood that we can use electrical stimuli to provoke nerve reactions for hundreds of years. In 1969, the first cochlear implant restored a sense of sound to a patient. In 2012, BrainGate developed a device that allowed a paralyzed woman to drink from a bottle, using her thoughts to control a robot arm.
Historically, work in brain-computer interfaces (BCI) has focused on restoring function to people with degenerative neurological diseases or spinal injuries. More recently, startups such as Precision Neuroscience, Synchron, and Neuralink are trying to turn BCI technology into something usable by a wider patient pool.
Again, Neuralink is not the first company to put a device in a human’s brain, but its device can record far more information than previous ones.
Neuralink is also the first device surgically placed by a robot. The implant threads are so fine they can’t be inserted by a human hand, which is why Musk’s team developed a robot surgeon to perform the task. The robot removes a piece of the skull and then weaves electrodes and superfine wire into the brain.
What does Neuralink do?
Ramses Alcaide, CEO of Neurable, a neurotech company developing non-invasive, brain-computer interfaces in the form of headphones, explains the planned uses of Neuralink:
According to Neuralink’s website, the company’s initial goal is to help those immobilized by paralysis regain lost skills of communication. Down the line, it intends to pursue restoring motor, sensory and visual functions as well as treatment of neurological disorders.
“A Neuralink-like device has the potential to enhance human memory, processing speed and cognitive abilities by creating a direct interface between the human brain and digital devices,” Alcaide said.
Brain-computer interfaces can be used to control prosthetics or exoskeletons. This use case would enable people with paralysis or amputations to regain a certain level of mobility and independence, according to Alcaide.
Neuralink’s main focus is to help people who are unable to speak or write communicate with others by allowing them to control a virtual mouse, keyboard or send messages by thought.