Speaker 1: Elon Musk wants to implant a chip in your brain to read your thoughts. He's done it with a monkey. He's done it with a pig. Will a human be next? It's the concept behind his company, neurolink, which is developing what's known as a brain computer interface. Essentially, it's a chip implanted into your skull that connects to your brain with ultra fine wires, the chip known as the link processes, neural signals, feeding them to computers out in the real world. Musk says the link would act like a Fitbit [00:00:30] for your skull decoding brain activity one day. He says it could help treat paralysis, upload memories, and even allow consensual telepathy. This is a huge goal and one with some potentially huge ethical and practical limitations. So how does it even work and will it become a reality? Let's break it down.
Speaker 1: So how does the link work? Well, [00:01:00] let's do a little neuroscience 1 0 1, and I promise you won't need a brain implant to understand this. Our brains are made up of billions of neurons, brain cells with long spindly arms that send messages using electrical and chemical signals. The electrical signals travel between neurons in a chain reaction, sending messages to the parts of our brain that control, say, speech or movement. When I move my hand, that movement starts out as a spike of electrical activity in my brain. [00:01:30] In this case, the region that controls my hand, the way neurally sees it, the big networks of neurons in our heads are just another form of electrical wiring. So in theory, you could connect those brain wires to actual wires and have them share information, kind of like plugging a USB drive into a computer, but way more complex. In this case, the computer is your brain and the chip is the USB drive. Rather than having neurons send and received the electrical signals, they [00:02:00] could be sent and received by a chip. And that's the link. The link connects to the neurons in your brain with tiny wires that are about five microns thick or one 20th of the width of a human hair, and it's implanted straight into your skull.
Speaker 2: You remove, uh, about a coin size piece of skull, and, uh, and then you can just walk around right after, right afterwards. It's pretty cool
Speaker 1: That surgery is done by a Neurolink robot at an event in 2019. The company showed a kind of sewing [00:02:30] machine robot that could plant the wires in the brain. The idea is that the surgery is easy enough so you can install new chips as the technology improves, kind of like an iPhone upgrade, I guess, in 2020. Musk said the implant would take an hour to insert and could be done without general anesthesia. Huh? There you go. I guess you don't know the phrase underneath the ties. Robot brain surgery is in your nightmare list until you hear it. Now, Neurolink hasn't done a public human [00:03:00] demo of this tech yet, but it has inserted it into a pig at a company presentation in 2020. Neurolink brought out a pig named Gertrud. They said that Gertrud had been living with a link in her brain for two months and showed what they claimed was real time neural activity from the chip.
Speaker 2: The B2 hearing are real time signals from the neural link in gut's head. So this neural link connects to neurons that are, uh, in her snout. So whenever she shuffles around [00:03:30] and touches something with a snout, uh, that sends out, uh, neural spikes, which are detected here,
Speaker 1: But the demo didn't end there. Neurolink also showed how a pig's brain activity can be used to predict movement.
Speaker 2: We, uh, take the, the readings from the neurons and we try to predict the PO position of the joints. Um, and so we say we have the predicted position of the joints, and then we we measure the actual position of the joints. You can see that they're almost exactly aligned. So [00:04:00] we're able with, um, a wireless neural neural implant to actually predict the position of, of all of the limbs, uh, in the pig's body.
Speaker 1: In 2021, Neurolink took its demos even further, showing a monkey playing video games with its mind. The monkey called pager had chips connected to the region of his brain controlling hand and arm movement. Every time Pager moved his joystick left or right, the length fed his brain signals into a decode that recorded his intended movements [00:04:30] in real time. After a few minutes, the Neurolink team removed the joystick for the game, but the computer could still predict where Pager wanted to move his hand.
Speaker 3: After only a few minutes of calibration, we can use the output from the decoder to move the cursor instead of the joystick page. Still moves the joystick out of habit, but as you can see, it's unplugged. He's controlling the cursor entirely with decoded neural activity. [00:05:00] One of the things the neurally allow pager to do is to play his favorite video game pong to control his paddle on the right side of the screen. Pager simply thinks about moving his hand up or down. We've removed the joystick altogether.
Speaker 1: Neurally says these kinds of demos show the real potential of its technology, a link that can decode the intention to move. The company says this could help a paralyzed person control a computer with just their mind, [00:05:30] or even in theory help restore motion. But Elon Musk doesn't want to stop there. After all, if the link is like a USB drive installed into your brain, go with me on this. Could it read more complex thoughts and even feelings? Could it store your thoughts, upload your dreams, even replay your memories?
Speaker 2: Uh, yes. I think, uh, in the future you'll be able to save and replay memories. Um, I mean, this is obviously sounding increasingly like a Black Mirror episode. Everything [00:06:00] that's encoded in memory, you could, uh, you could upload, you could basically store your memories, um, as a backup and restore the memories, and ultimately you could potentially download them into a new body or into a robot. Buddy, the future's gonna be weird.
Speaker 1: Neurolink has made some big promises, but it's also faced criticism. In 2022, the company was forced to respond to claims of animal cruelty, admitting that a number of its monkeys had died or needed to be euthanized after [00:06:30] experiments. And then there's the fact of actually making this research a reality. The company says it received FDA breakthrough device designation in July, 2020, but that's not the same as FDA approval, and Neurolink hasn't delivered a product to market yet. Some neuroscientists say that Neurally is just showing demos that have been happening in labs for decades. According to Andrew Jackson, professor of neural interfaces at Newcastle University, scientists use monkey brain signals to control a robotic arm more [00:07:00] than 20 years ago. But Musk's vision of downloadable memories, well, Jackson says that kind of mind tacking is decades away, and that makes sense. Neurons might run on electrical signals, but there are billions of them in the brain working in a really complex web.
Speaker 1: They're not just light bulbs that switch on and off reading complex thoughts and memories in different people. That's a whole different story. Well, as for what's next from Euro link, we're [00:07:30] set to find out more on November 30th, when the company holds its long awaited show and tell for 2022. So what do you think? Is this really futuristic call tech or is it a long way off? Let me know in the comments. And while you're here, make sure you subscribe to CNET for plenty more news on neural link and other futuristic tech to satisfy your brain chip or no chip. For what? The future. I'm Claire Riley bringing you the world of tomorrow today.