Elon Musk's Neuralink has been in the news recently, and not because the privately held neurotechnology company has made progress.
The San Francisco-based company is being investigated for alleged animal rights violations, according to an exclusive Reuters story.
That's why I want to talk about what Neuralink is doing and what challenges the six-year-old company is facing. Musk has had success with other ubiquitous technologies: scalable electric cars (Tesla), rocket landing gear (SpaceX) and satellite Internet service (Starlink by SpaceX).
Neuralink works on a BCI, a brain-computer interface, an implant that enables communication between the human brain and computers.
The concept is not new. Researchers have been working on brain-computer interfaces for years, and Neuralink's Link product builds on existing research. However, many innovations go beyond what is currently on the market, increasing the chances of ultimate success.
The biggest advantage is that the device is fully implantable, battery-powered and wireless, ultimately allowing it to move from the laboratory environment to the everyday lives of those who need it most.
In addition, thanks to its advanced technology, Link can record the activity of more neurons than any other interface. An average device of this type can receive current pulses from 200 to 300 electrodes. Correlation takes this precision to the next level with 2048 electrodes. With this technology, we can fight degenerative diseases, strokes and paralysis, as well as Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Neuralink's next step is to implant the device into the human brain. The company has already conducted experiments on animals and plans to move to human clinical trials in the near future. This is an important milestone as it will allow for further testing and technology development.
In addition to helping in the fight against various diseases, which is very commendable, this neural data recording and transmission device has another big and serious purpose: to allow people to interact with computers "naturally" and intuitively. The idea is that in its advanced form, Link will not only be able to read data, but also print it in the brain and provide two-way communication between the brain and the device.
Musk said that this will allow us to increase our capabilities and create devices that will help us achieve superintelligence over time. At first glance, everything looks good, but if you dig deeper, you will find many problems.
A huge challenge
First, the procedure itself. this is about brain surgery. While the process will certainly improve, we are still drilling into the skull and placing implants in the body's most expensive organ. Infection, tissue damage, and intracranial bleeding come to mind.
Then comes the digital dimension of communication. All communications can be tampered with; It can be manipulated, signals can be distorted. Do we really want to be hacked by machines? Hackers will always find something useful inside any device, and there is no more valuable target than an enemy's brain.
The other big problem that Neuralink could solve is the same problem that affects other implants: the body's immune system. Our bodies are designed to protect us from foreign invaders, which is what these organs are. The body will try to fight them, which can lead to inflammation and rejection of the implants.
Finally, there is the problem of infection. If brain infection persists, the implant must be removed. Removing a Neuralink implant when the brain is fighting an infection is more difficult than inserting it, and there have been no previously documented cases.
However, we can go back to our experience with existing devices, and one study found that problems such as infection and device failure occurred in 4.6% of patients with this type of implant.
Finally, what about the long-term side effects? Although the Neuralink implant appears to be less invasive than traditional brain-computer interfaces, that doesn't mean brain damage can't be significant. We won't get definitive results until decades of medical tests and research.
For people with spinal cord injuries or debilitating brain injuries, the Neuralink device can be life-saving. But for healthy people, the risks seem to outweigh the benefits. But this is just my opinion.
Will you get a Neuralink implant? Let me know in the comments section below.