Ever since Elon Musk introduced Neuralink, his newest venture to the public, where he claimed to make human brain control computers and all computer controlled devices, directly.
After the launch of Neuralink, most of the people who do not have enough neuroscience knowledge or computer knowledge (No Offense Intended), went with news that Elon Musk is trying to turn humans into cyborgs.
So, how much truth is in this statement that Musk is making cyborgs?
What is Neuralink? How it works? and What it really means for future of humanity?
Keep on reading to find out.
What is NeuraLink?
As answer to all of the cyborg-making allegations, Elon Musk once said in a talk with Alibaba Founder Jack Ma:
“We are already a cyborg, People don’t realize. We are already a cyborg because we are so well integrated with our phones and our computers. The phone is almost like an extension of yourself. If you forget your phone, it’s like a missing limb. But the communication bandwidth to the phone is very low, especially input. “Elon Musk
Elon is actually right in that regard, because the dictionary definition of cyborg is:
” a person whose physiological functioning is aided by or dependent upon a mechanical or electronic device”
So, anyone using hearing aids, glasses, contact lenses etc. is technically a cyborg.
So, what is NeuraLink?
Technically, it is just as same as hearing aids, where the signals from your brain are converted into digital signals, which are then used to control a computer, or any computer controlled devices.
Meaning, you can tell you computer to run some program, by commanding it with your brain, instead of pushing buttons or using voice commands.
Applications of this technology go much beyond controlling a computer with brain. This technology has huge medical and educational applications which will discussed in detail below.
How does NeuraLink works?
NeuraLink works in a similar way, like other neurotechnologies.
In order to understand the working principle of NeuraLink, understanding how brain transfers and processes data is essential.
Brain is composed of network of neurons or nerve cells. These neurons communicate with each other using the nervous system. They relay signals from the entire body, in form of chemical and electrical signals, controlling all the functions of body.
Neurons communicate each other using synapses which are connection points between neurons, where chemical and electrical signals are created, called as neurotransmitters.
All of senses, emotions and all brain activity is just neurons firing signals. There are thousands of neurons in a brain all firing signals and communicating with each other.
Human Brain has two main systems: Limbic system and Cortex, which are interconnected to each other.
Limbic system is responsible for emotions and survival instincts.
Cortex is responsible for problem solving skills and critical thinking.
Now, NeuraLink wants to add a new layer to this system, in order to increase human capability that is due to Cortex and Limbic System. Basically, Neuralink wants to solve the Bandwidth Problem.
For Example, if you are working on a project and a technical problem with your tools has occurred, and you have to fix that tool, but you don’t know how to. So, what are you going to do?
You can search it on google by typing ” How to fix that tool? “, but typing that statement on a keyboard or smartphone will take atleast 2-3 seconds. And if you are using voice commands, the search engine will probably mess it up and you will have to resort to typing again.
Now, that is the bandwidth problem. You cannot convey enough information to a computer you need in as much less time as possible.
Now, imagine, you just think about asking google on how to fix that tool, and the google opens it for you, without even touch of a button. Evenmore, potentially, NeuraLink can do the transfer the opposite way, where instead of just opening the webpage where the information about that tool exists, it justs transfers all of that knowledge directly to your brain.
Just think how much time could be saved by this.
How NeuraLink intends to fix Bandwidth Problem
NeuraLink’s engineering is similar to how neuroscience monitors the brain\s activity.
Recently, researchers at Stanford University developed a system that lets people type by just using their brain. This is for people who have paralysis and cannot do physical tasks normally.
They do this by inserting 256 electrodes into the brain (Utah Array Electrodes), that read and stimulate neural activity.
In above video, the electrodes implanted into lady’s brain are recording neural activity and then in turn use that information to move a mouse cursor on screen.
NeuraLink wants to build up on this technology, and enhance it.
First thing NeuraLink wants to improve is the electrode, which is inserted into brain for recording neural avtivity.
These electrodes are like very fine needles inserted into brain for recording brain activity, but because of large size of Utah-Array electrodes, they damage the body’s immune system.
NeuraLink wants to make these electrodes as small as possible.
Utah-Array electrodes are usually 0.03mm at the tip and 0.1mm at their base. However, neuralink electrodes are going to be 0.004mm and 0.006mm.
Making the electrodes smaller makes them much less dangerous to nerve cells and the blood vessels in the brain. Also it makes them much flexible, allowing the electrodes to move with the brain as it moves inside the skull.
Possibility of movement by electrodes along with the brain, is due to matching the material properties of the electrodes with the brain, as much as possible.
Furthermore, NeuraLink electrodes are composed of gold electrodes coated with thin film polymer, polyimide. Utah array electrodes are platinum, which is not much flexible.
However, this small size comes with another problem. They are very difficult to insert into human brain, even by a skilled neuro-surgeon. For this NeuraLink have created a robot that will insert these electrodes with super precision.
The network of neuralink is simple. There is an amplifier that takes analog neural signals from the electrodes, which is then sent to a noise filter, which upon filtering, are sent to an analog-to-digital converter. These digital signals are then used to control computer.
Reverse process is also possible, where digital signals are converted into nerve signals.
What this technology means for humanity?
Elon Musk is an opposer of AI. That is not a secret. So, he believes in order to stop AI for ever controlling humans, we need to be better than them. It is survival of the fittest. Computers can compute and process data much faster. So, the only way to beat them, is to join them.
Still, transhumanistic future is a long shot, even with this technology. But it is more possible than it was before.
So, can it create cyborgs? Well, yes. Since, most of us already cyborgs, technically. It does not make much difference.
No matter what dangers it may bring, one can never turn a blind eye to its applications. Video games can become totally immersive experience by simple pairing neuralink with virtual reality.
Medical Applications like making people with paralysis able to walk by letting control bionic limbs with brains, or making blind or deaf people see and hear again, are too much valuable.
No matter what the dangers, applications of neuralink cannot be ignored.
Is NeuraLink bad? Is it good?
That is up to us. No technology is ever evil or good. It depends on how we use it. Nuclear Fission can be used to power our homes and our world, but at the same time it can be used to destroy cities with Nuclear bombs. So, is that Nuclear Fission’s fault? No.
So, it is upto us how we use this technology.