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Neuralink: The insane startup revolutionizing the world of artificial intelligence

Neuralink is revolutionizing the Human Brain in a quest to unlock our full potential

15 January 2023


Jayashri Ghorpade

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  • Neuralink is one of Elon Musk's strange and futuristic portfolio of companies.

  • It's developing neural interface technology — a.k.a. putting microchips into people's brains.

  • Although none of the tech Neuralink has showcased so far has been particularly groundbreaking neuroscientists are impressed with how well it's been able to bundle up existing technologies.

Elon Musk, the billionaire behind companies like Tesla and SpaceX, is known for his high-profile ventures. However, he also has a handful of unusual ventures.

He says one of his goals is to one day achieve "symbiosis" between the human brain and artificial intelligence. Neuralink is Musk's neural interface technology company. Simply put, it is building technology that could be embedded in a person's brain, where it could both record brain activity and potentially stimulate it.

While Musk likes to talk up his futuristic vision for the technology, merging human consciousness with AI, the tech has plenty of near-term potential medical applications such as the treatment of Parkinson's disease.

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Musk told "Artificial Intelligence" podcast host Lex Fridman in 2019 that Neuralink was "intended to address the existential risk associated with digital superintelligence." "We will not be able to be smarter than a digital supercomputer, so, therefore, if you cannot beat 'em, join 'em," Musk added.

The chip Neuralink is developing is about the size of a coin and would be surgically inserted into the brain using robotics by neurosurgeons. From the chip an array of tiny wires, each roughly 20 times thinner than a human hair, fan out into the patient's brain.

The wires are equipped with 1,024 electrodes which can both monitor brain activity and, theoretically, electrically stimulate the brain. This data is all transmitted wirelessly via the chip to computers where it can be studied by researchers.

Elon Musk said during an appearance on the "Joe Rogan Experience" podcast in May 2020 that Neuralink could begin testing on human subjects within a year. He made the same claim during an interview on Clubhouse in February 2021. Previously in 2019, Musk said the company hoped to get a chip into a human patient by the end of 2020.

Experts voiced doubt about this timeline at the time, as part of safety testing a neural interface device involves implanting it in an animal test subject (normally a primate) and leaving it there for an extended amount of time to test its longevity — as any chip would have to stay in a human patient's brain for a lifetime.

In conclusion, although Musk has touted the near-term applications of Neuralink, improved neural interface technology like Neuralink could be used to better study and treat severe neurological conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

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