Neuralink: Elon Musk unveils pig with chip in its brain

Neuralink: Elon Musk unveils pig with chip in its brain

screengrab from the webcast

Image caption

Gertrude

Elon Musk has unveiled a pig named Gertrude with a coin-sized computer chip in his brain to demonstrate his ambitious plans to create a working brain-machine interface.

“It’s kind of like a Fitbit in your skull with little threads,” the billionaire entrepreneur said on a webcast.

His start-up Neuralink applied to launch human trials last year.

The interface could allow people with neurological conditions to control phones or computers with their mind.

Mr. Musk argues that such chips could eventually be used to help treat conditions such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries.

But the long-term ambition is to usher in an era of what Musk calls “superhuman cognition,” in part to combat artificial intelligence so powerful it could destroy the human race.

  • Elon Musk reveals plans to hack the brain

Gertrude was one of three pigs in the pens who took part in Friday’s webcast demo. It took some time to move on, but when he ate and smelled the straw, the activity was shown on a graph that plotted his neural activity. So she almost ignored all the attention around her.

The processor in his brain sends out wireless signals, indicating neural activity in his snout as it searches for food.

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Multimedia captionMeet Elon Musk, the man who inspired Robert Downey Jr’s version of Iron Man

Mr. Musk said the original Neuralink device, revealed just over a year ago, has been simplified and made smaller.

“It actually fits your skull quite well. It might be under your hair and you wouldn’t know it.”

Founded in 2017, Neuralink worked hard to recruit scientists, something Mr. Musk was still advertising on Twitter for last month and which he said was the purpose of Friday’s demo.

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Getty Images

Image caption

Getting the human brain to communicate with machines is an ambitious goal

The device the company is developing consists of a tiny probe containing more than 3,000 electrodes connected to flexible wires thinner than a human hair, capable of monitoring the activity of 1,000 brain neurons.

Prior to the webcast, Ari Benjamin, at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kording Lab, told BBC News that the real barrier to technology may be the sheer complexity of the human brain.

“Once they have the recordings, Neuralink will need to decode them and one day they will hit the barrier which is our lack of basic understanding of how the brain works, no matter how many neurons they record from.

“Decoding goals and movement plans is difficult when you don’t understand the neural code in which those things are communicated.”

Musk’s companies SpaceX and Tesla have captured the public’s imagination with their attempts to drive advancement in space flight and electric vehicles, respectively.

But both also demonstrate the entrepreneur’s habit of making bold statements about projects that end up taking a lot longer than expected.

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