Neuralink: Ambition with boundless opportunities

Communication being an important part of human life is very important for sustainability. Those with good interpersonal skills are often considered as good with people. Communication of body with brain requires 86 billion neurons. What if this communication fails? How will patients with brain disorders communicate? It will restrict the ability of the patient to listen, absorb and communicate information.

Certain neurological problems like memory loss, hearing loss, blindness, paralysis, depression, anxiety, Parkinson's disease, and other such diseases cause loss of communication with the brain. Neurons, also known as 'nerve cells' send signals in the form of electrochemical waves from different body areas to the brain. But due to certain diseases or injuries, the nervous system stops working. Neuralink, founded by Elon Musk, has a solution for them.


Elon Musk- Founder of Neuralink Source: Medium


Objective

The main aim of this technology is to solve important brain and spine problems with a seamlessly implanted device. It simply activates the nervous system at its input stage. Silicon electrodes are now replaced with thin flexible electrodes coated in a conductive biocompatible thin-film polymer. Neuralink threads are very thin and flexible that only affect a small portion of the brain. It will less likely affect the nervous system or puncture blood vessels.


Fixing into the brain

Fixing it into the human brain requires work of patience and precision, done by a robotic electrode inserter. It comes with a suite of cameras and light modulus to allow the robot to precisely insert thread, making a small 23 mm hole in the skull. After getting into the head, electrodes record analog data from the brain which needs to be amplified as neural signals. After filtering out unwanted noise, analog signals get converted into binary data. This data needs to be transferred to a computer outside of the head as can't install the processor inside the brain. Neuralink allows input and output directly from the brain to whatever you are doing on a machine.


Utah Array

Parkinson's patients got approved by the FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) of the United States of America for using 4 spiky electrodes (Utah Array) in the brain, connected to the outside world through sockets atop his head, making it very risky for the most important part of the body. No one likes to have wires coming out of the head. Technology by Neuralink is 1000 times better than Utah Array. Difficulties like infection, skin erosion, extension cable malfunction, etc. bring a conclusion of keeping this technology aside.

Source: Neuralink/Youtube

Prototype

Prototype is tested upon rat using 12 microchips each capable of processing 256 channels of data equalling 3072 channels coming from threads. Hence by increasing the number of channels large amount of data will be processed and the system will function more accurately. This prototype system used a USB C port for both power and data transfer. It requires an ugly port on the head that breaks the skin making a cosmetic issue as well as attacks the body's defense for the infection through bacteria, virus, or foreign bodies.

Source: Real engineering/ Youtube


The new prototype consists of four N1 chips, three will be implanted into the motor cortex for control and one will be implanted into the somatosensory cortex for sensor feedback. This will feed data to an inductive and data transfer coil under the skin behind the ear, which will then transfer the data to a wearable computer and charger worn behind the ear. The signals will then get processed and simplify before transferred to a Bluetooth device that has a cursor or mouse to control.

Source: Neuralink/Youtube


BCI on monkeys

According to the study in 2008, BCI (Brain-Computer Interface) was implanted into the brain of a monkey to record the response of neurons from the brain. They trained monkeys to complete a task on a screen using a small handheld controller. They recorded the monkey's motor cortex neural activity during this training and mapped a robotic arm to match his hand movements. They confirmed that the more neurons they could record data, the higher probability of the robotic arm matching the monkey's actual arm movements. For humans, after fixing the device into the head, Neuralink App with Bluetooth connection, the patient gets control over any device, keyboard, and mouse directly with the activity of the brain, just by thinking about it. Isn't it fascinating?


Device Security

It will take strong cryptography, defensive engineering, and expensive security auditing to make it secure. As the device is connected through Bluetooth, there is a huge risk of being hacked by a hacker or cyber-criminal. Efforts are being made to overcome such issues but standards are not set yet. According to US FDA (Food and Drugs Administration), hackers either try to get personal information like DOB, location, PIN, etc. from BCI or try to change the designed legitimate code.

As stated by Elon Musk, Neuralink will start the initial human clinical trial at the end of this year before taking a long and difficult approval from FDA. If they get managed the FDA approval, this will be a huge leap for the treatment of patients having injuries leading to paralysis. The success of this ambition will benefit thousands of patients, become free from the carer, and complete simple tasks with the help of the computer. 

There is a legitimate worry that AI (Artificial Interface) and machinery will pose a threat to human society in near future. Such an interesting topic will be covered in a future blog.

 









12 Comments

  1. Nice superbly well and good for knowledge

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey, 23mm hole might be in depth ... if it is what is the diameter of that hole ... is the hole covered by something that to avoid bacterias' to enter brain ? well its interesting :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey, 23mm hole might be in depth ... if it is what is the diameter of that hole ... is the hole covered by something that to avoid bacterias' to enter brain ? well its interesting :)

    ReplyDelete
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