Neuralink: dream or reality?

On the YouTube page of Neuralink, the neurotechnology company founded by Elon Musk about five years ago, a video of a monkey called "Pager" playing the world-famous Pong has been posted. It might come as a surprise that a monkey is able to play a video game, but what makes the news is the fact that he was playing with his mind.

Pager is nine years old, and six weeks ago she was implanted with two N1 LINK devices on both hemispheres of her brain. As the narrator of the video explains, the primate learned to use a joystick to move the cursor to targets on the screen; all the while, devices connecting the two N1 LINKs recorded the activity of her neurons thanks to more than 2,000 wires inserted in the region of the motor cortex. These data were then sent to a decoding algorithm, whose task is to analyze them and predict, almost "in real time", Pager's movements. Once calibrated, this allowed the primate to move the cursor on the screen without the need for a joystick.

From a technical point of view, the chip digitizes and amplifies the voltages (almost infinitesimal) recorded by each of its 1024 electrodes. It then proceeds to analyze these signals using algorithms called "spike sorting", which clearly distinguish the activities of neurons from the rest of the electrical noise. The spikes are then aggregated and counted every 25ms for each of the 1024 channels, sending them to a computer that performs the decoding.

Ad Agosto, Neuralink aveva già concesso un assaggio delle innumerevoli possibilità di sviluppo della sua tecnologia, organizzando una piccola demo live su tre maiali ai quali era stato impiantato lo stesso chip di Pager 

According to Elon Musk himself, the first Neuralink product will allow people with paralysis to use their smartphones with their minds faster than someone using their thumbs. The company goes even further, in their goals there is in fact to use the Link to restore physical activity in paraplegics, reading signals in the brain and using them to stimulate the movement of muscles and limbs.

Although extremely innovative, the one involving the cute Pager is nothing more than an intermediate step towards the company's real goals. It sounds like science fiction, in reality they are the new frontiers (in the long term) of technology. In any case, you do not need to worry about aesthetics, in fact, the same Musk has specified that the device will be implanted flush with the skull and will recharge wirelessly.

Written by Gianmarco Frangipane from the VGen Engineering Hub