Neuralink: Here’s What We Know About This Brain-Computer Interface

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This site published an article back in 2019 on “smart chips for the brain.”  It quoted Northwestern University neuroscientist and business professor Dr. Moran Cerf saying, “In as little as five years, super smart people could be walking down the street; men and women who’ve paid to increase their intelligence.”

Well, here we are, five years later. … and at the end of January, Elon Musk announced on Twitter (X) that the first human had received a Neuralink implant, a device called Telepathy.  We’re not sure if he is super smart yet.  But if Telepathy works as planned, he may have a variety of new capabilities.

Neuralink is not the first company to develop brain-machine interfaces.

People have understood that we can use electrical stimuli to provoke nerve reactions for hundreds of years.   In 1969, the first cochlear implant restored a sense of sound to a patient.  In 2012, BrainGate developed a device that allowed a paralyzed woman to drink from a bottle, using her thoughts to control a robot arm.

Historically, work in brain-computer interfaces (BCI) has focused on restoring function to people with degenerative neurological diseases or spinal injuries. More recently, startups such as Precision Neuroscience, Synchron, and Neuralink are trying to turn BCI technology into something usable by a wider patient pool.

Again, Neuralink is not the first company to put a device in a human’s brain, but its device can record far more information than previous ones.

Neuralink is also the first device surgically placed by a robot.  The implant threads are so fine they can’t be inserted by a human hand, which is why Musk’s team developed a robot surgeon to perform the task.  The robot removes a piece of the skull and then weaves electrodes and superfine wire into the brain.

What does Neuralink do?

Ramses Alcaide, CEO of Neurable, a neurotech company developing non-invasive, brain-computer interfaces in the form of headphones, explains the planned uses of Neuralink:

According to Neuralink’s website, the company’s initial goal is to help those immobilized by paralysis regain lost skills of communication. Down the line, it intends to pursue restoring motor, sensory and visual functions as well as treatment of neurological disorders.

“A Neuralink-like device has the potential to enhance human memory, processing speed and cognitive abilities by creating a direct interface between the human brain and digital devices,” Alcaide said.

Brain-computer interfaces can be used to control prosthetics or exoskeletons. This use case would enable people with paralysis or amputations to regain a certain level of mobility and independence, according to Alcaide.

Neuralink’s main focus is to help people who are unable to speak or write communicate with others by allowing them to control a virtual mouse, keyboard or send messages by thought.

For example, someone with paraplegia would be able to manipulate a computer or mobile device using speech or text synthesis to surf the web and create digital art.

By monitoring brain activity, brain-computer interfaces can also detect changes that may indicate neurological conditions such as epilepsy, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease, Alcaide said.

To someone with any of the aforementioned disorders, diseases, or injuries, Neuralink might sound like a Godsend.

But it does have other potential uses, which we’ll get to in a moment.

Move fast and break things

If this sounds ambitious, it is, and the development schedule has been delayed because Musk did not get testing approvals as quickly as he originally planned.  In 2022, Neuralink came under federal investigation after employees claimed that experiments were being rushed, leading to unnecessary animal deaths.  In more standard research settings, a scientist will thoroughly analyze what happens when an animal dies during testing before moving on to further animal trials.  This is a time-consuming process.

In 2021, rival company Synchron’s recipient of a brain implant posted a message to Twitter using only his brain. Synchron’s BCI technology differs slightly from Neuralink’s, and the implantation is minimally invasive.  Their success drove Musk to push his employees even harder.  He is known to “move fast and break things.”

Except animals aren’t just “things,” which most people seem to intuitively understand, even if Elon Musk doesn’t.  Of the 23 monkeys tested on in Neuralink’s labs, 15 were euthanized or died, sometimes after extreme suffering.  In some cases, the deaths were linked to infection or hemorrhage after the electrodes were inserted.  In one case, a male monkey was found missing some of its fingers and toes, likely caused by stress-induced self-mutilation.

Neuralink had paid to use some facilities at University of California-Davis for its animal research.  During an investigation, UC-Davis had to hand over hundreds of pages of research material showing that animals suffered from chronic infections, seizures, paralysis, and painful side effects following the experiments

Other groups, like BrainGate and Synchron, are also working on brain-computer interfaces to improve the lives of people with debilitating medical conditions.  But they’re working on less invasive procedures involving fewer animal testing deaths.

Why is Musk so hell-bent on this specific type of BCI device?

More importantly, if this technology is really about helping people with debilitating medical conditions, why does Elon want one himself, as he has publicly stated? He looks pretty healthy to me.

Elon Musk has been making his fears of AI public for years.  In 2020, Musk said he believed, “We’re headed toward a situation where AI is vastly smarter than humans, and I think that time frame is less than five years from now.  But that doesn’t mean that everything goes to hell in five years.  It just means that things get unstable or weird.”

In a 2023 interview with Tucker Carlson, Musk said that he thought AI had the potential for civilizational destruction.  He thought it could be used to manipulate public opinion and required regulatory safeguards, noting that we should not assume civilization is robust.  He believes ChatGPT4 is already “better” than humans at producing poetry.

 

To compete with AI, Musk believes that we will need to merge with it.  He believes that devices like Neuralink will allow people the option of adding a layer of superintelligence to their consciousness.

How realistic is this?

A lot of neuroscientists are skeptical.  John Donoghue, a neuroscientist at Brown, said in response to Musk’s BCI goals, “I think it’s dismissive of the level of complexity of the whole thing.”

Musk has shown some ignorance of brain conditions before.  For example, In a 2019 interview with Lex Fridman, he said he thought Neuralink could “solve” diseases like autism or schizophrenia. Except neither one of those is considered a disease; autism is a developmental disability and schizophrenia is a mental disorder, often characterized by abnormal patterns of activity within the brain.  Implanting devices into organs of which our understanding is incomplete could lead to disaster.

“Some of the major disasters of mankind have been produced by the narrowness of men with a good methodology,” Alfred North Whitehead, The Function of Reason (1929)

I think this describes Musk.  He has let himself get sucked into one thought pattern regarding AI, and he does not appropriately consider the knowledge of people who have devoted their lives to neuroscience.  He is bent on developing his answer to AI in his way. He is approaching this with the fervor of a religious person rather than the dispassionate curiosity that used to characterize scientists.

If “religious” seems like the wrong word, it’s not.  Silicon Valley is quite interested in consciousness and spirituality.  Big tech executives have been flocking to the Esalen Institute for years, a hub for New Age spirituality that opened up in the 1960’s.  New Age spirituality is big business: it’s politically influential and is in love with the hyper-consciousness that our emerging BCI could theoretically achieve in transhumanism. It focuses a lot on untapped human potential, which explains Silicon Valley’s attraction.

I can’t find any evidence that Elon Musk has ever had anything to do with the Esalen Institute; he’s never claimed to be particularly religious.  But his obsession with the human-AI merger is not his alone. There’s a whole school of thought, the conscious evolution movement, that shares his beliefs regarding the merger between man and machine.  And these beliefs are not something the average American would probably align with.

Elon Musk has done a lot of amazing things.

I hate bashing Elon Musk, because so many people love to hate on him.  I’m grateful for his Twitter purchase; I’m grateful that he’s pro-human.  He makes average people feel good about themselves, in contrast to the climate-disaster crowd spewing nothing but self-hatred and despair.

But Neuralink has too many problems. It seems like massive risk for limited reward.  What if someone’s BCI device got hacked?  What if the wrong device picked up your thoughts?  In a world of social credit scores, this seems like a disaster waiting to happen.  Even in a world without social credit scores, I can easily imagine finding myself in a variety of embarrassing scenarios.

What could widely available BCI devices do to competition in sports?  In business?  I’ve never heard any talk about mandating these kinds of devices, especially since we don’t even know how well they work yet, but let’s assume they work.  Let’s assume BCI devices grant wearers enough of an advantage in school and business that some kind of elite forms.  Will average citizens find that they can’t make a living for themselves without one?

I think Elon should stick to space and X.  He’s awesome at those.  You don’t have to test rockets on animals. X has become far more interesting since his takeover.  However, he is not a neuroscientist or an ethicist, and BCI devices need to be developed by teams of people with a more thorough appreciation of those fields.

Musk’s concerns about AI are probably valid. But I don’t think the correct answer is to merge with it.  I don’t think I need a device in my brain to achieve my full potential. I’d rather exhaust all the traditional options of self-improvement first.

But I could be wrong.

What do you think? Do you feel there are good uses for this technology? How far do you think they’ll go with it? Are you concerned about this? Let’s discuss it in the comments section.

About Marie Hawthorne

A lover of novels and cultivator of superb apple pie recipes, Marie spends her free time writing about the world around her.

Marie Hawthorne

Marie Hawthorne

A lover of novels and cultivator of superb apple pie recipes, Marie spends her free time writing about the world around her.

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  • This is nothing but a control mechanism. I don’t care if this is in the hands of good or evil, on Neuralink, I am not just no, I am OHHHH HELL NOOOO!!

  • Makes you smart or tells you what to do? If you don’t, then how hard would it be to send a microwave to the device in your head and have it exploded? Those voices in your head will be your new master telling how to think. No thank you, I can make mistakes all on my own and learn from them.

  • I do see great possible future uses of this tech. For instance if a mother of four get a spinal injury resulting in paralisys this chip with linked exoskeleton could allow mom to feed hug and dress her kids and wipe her own rear end. Another advantage is in space with this link an astronaut could affect repairs on a ship or station from inside, managing drones on the outside.

    • I agree. Those with normally-functioning nervous systems should thank God for them, but then think about the ruined lives of those with any of many neurological diseases. What do you want us to do? While procedures like organ transplants or bypass surgery have always had many problems and dangers, would you rather they not exist as an option for seriously ill people? I hoped to the end of his life that Christopher Reeve be able to walk again, but it was not to be. This might have allowed him to do so.

      • No, I do not favor organ transplants. They have to harvest most organs from a still-living person, and the recipient has to be on immunosuppressant drugs the rest of his life, and seriously curtail his life just to avoid deadly diseases most of us shrug our shoulders at. Moreover, most people’s organs could be kept from harm in the first place if we would stop poisoning ourselves, and use God’s remedies, herbs, for health. As for bypass surgery, would never be needed if we stopped raising animals in CAFO, outlawed GMO, stopped industrial farming and switched to organic, biodynamic, stopped taking pharmaceutical drugs and shut down Big pHarma, and so forth. Our day to enter eternity is decided by God, and cannot be changed. All we can do is do our best to improve our health in the meantime, and we are going about it in all the wrong ways, and this push by Musk and others is just more of the same old.

  • When I started this article, I thought that maybe eventually it could help my daughter, who has autism. While autism is a developmental disability, it’s caused by vaccines. Every vaccine causes an inflammatory response in order to cause the immune system to produce the desired antibodies. All killed virus vaccines include an adjuvant, which means helper (Spanish ayudar, to help, is related). It helps by increasing the level of inflammation produced, which helps in the formation of antibodies. But many people, usually for genetic reasons, like everyone in my family, produce too much inflammation, often on the level of vaccine encephalitis or chronic allergic or autoimmune disease. The encephalitis at that level does stroke-like damage, especially to the language and social center of the brain. In other words, autism. My daughter reacted to the hep-B vaccine at birth, given without my permission and against my orders, with vaccine encephalitis, four days and nights of constant, inconsolable screaming. No words until 18 months, when the DTaP booster erased both of them and she was diagnosed with autism two months later, at 20 months. She is nearly 24 now, normal IQ, part-time job, healthy, beautiful, but lonely and bored, often despairing, because she has no friends. We work on it all the time, but she has difficulty thinking of questions and statements about her own and other people’s lives. We worked for five years on English as a Second Language because she had no comprehension of the most basic grammatical structures of English, or the ability to use them to construct sentences. Not from lack of intelligence, but from broken neuronal connections which were inborn in her brain (see Noam Chomsky), but destroyed when the vaccine encephalitis cut off the oxygen supply to parts of her brain. Aphasia. She also has delayed auditory processing, same cause, the neurons in her brain can’t communicate with each other to interpret language she hears quickly.

    These problems were caused by vaccines, they were not congenital. Yes, genes load the gun, but vaccines pull the trigger. I’m not against all vaccines for anyone, but people need to do their own research and make their choices very carefully. And this new technology might at some point make it possible for my daughter to converse and have friends, have a life. I have multiple sclerosis and Asperger’s from vaccine reactions: possibly I might be helped as well.

    • God bless you, Cia, and your daughter. I wonder…a relative became autistic after a move prompted “catch-up” vaccines. My sons have communication issues somewhat similar to your daughter but not as severe. Only my youngest child is clean. We have wondered at the role of V. I would like more information from your sources.

    • I am angry for you! I agree completely. These need to stop. And God bless you for your strength and tenacity for your daughter!

  • I’m a creationist. I believe that the earthly design and creation of man business is the sole domain of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.

    Every time man meddles with creation (whether for profit or with altruistic aspirations) ,in time, that thing that was “improved” goes sideways to the point it causes more harm and unintended consequences than if just left alone. GMOs are a glaring example of man’s incompetence in the improvement of creation business.

    I’m not anti science. On the contrary. I believe mankind could conquer medical, social, economic issues with (and only with) consent and support from the general population.., scripture just tells me it’s not in the cards.

    I suppose, looking at society today, this will gain momentum and success. Elon is a brilliant mind and, after all, he apparently has an ally in Vladimir Putin, so I’m sure everything will be just fine.

    • Vaccines are a technological intervention, not created by God. I am happy that they have almost eliminated rabies and distemper in Western countries, also polio and diphtheria. Not happy at all about the millions with neurological, allergic, or autoimmune disease caused by them. It would be very difficult, probably impossible, to live without using anything produced by processes other than completely natural, God-given ones.

      I am also leery of a novel development like this, and I believe that God gave animals rights too. But ultimately, if the procedure eventually becomes effective and trustworthy, won’t everyone use it to restore function to disabled family members? My mother had a vaccine reaction and Alzheimers for ten years, while my father was rendered paraplegic by a flu vaccine. Did God will that vaccines both prevent disease and disable millions? Would he approve or disapprove of a technology to treat their induced disability? Or congenital, would it make any difference? I’m not saying I would choose it now, but if you saw the suffering we’re talking about, present every second, most people would be overjoyed at the relief it might offer.

      • I see no benefit in the vast majority of vaccines. Most diseases for which we have vaccines were almost gone by the time the vaccines were introduced. Most do not protect. Natural immunity protects. Let the child have a mild case and be immune for life. Polio was probably not even caused by a virus. Read The Moth in the Iron Lung for a different view. Rabies is still endemic in the wild population. The newer vaccine uses tissue originally taken from a newborn vivisected without anesthesia, just like most other vaccines, particularly those from Merck. Which is most of childhood vaccines, with no alternatives. This is sheer evil, and good does not come from evil. It mocks God.

      • With respect, did you catch the part of my post where I said “I’m not anti science. On the contrary. I believe mankind could conquer medical, social, economic issues with (and only with) consent and support from the general population..”? If someone feels this is a benefit and a potent weapon to fight certain neuro disorders that is a personal choice. I’m certain God would want your family to be healed. I’m also certain I don’t trust mankind with implanting a computer chip in my or my family’s brain.

        I feel for you and can both sympathize and empathize with you. My oldest boy has severe Tourette’s. Since he was a baby I don’t think he has managed more than two hours sleep in a row. Without question, though, I know he would not use this technology. But, if he decided to, it would be his choice.

  • I think it has potential.
    But going to hold any opinion till they make more advances and the technology matures beyond experimental status.
    Might be another 20-40 years.

  • I am with you. Elon Musk has no business being involved in this effort. He has no background. His Tesla is a disaster, and his solar company, in my personal experience, is impossible to work with, and I’m getting bad reports from people who have his solar products. I have been an award-winning artist since I was in 3rd grade, 2/3 of a century ago, and I have made art using fractal programs and landscape programs like Terragen and Bryce. I have a degree in art. (In addition, I have been married to one of the most brilliant computer engineers, both hardware and software, in the United States, and founder of a company that is a household name, for over a half century.) I have been using AI art generation programs for some time now, and have produced thousands of images. They were produced with my very detailed prompts, and I choose the ones that most closely match my intent and artistic style, and am selling products with these images. I can tell you point blank that these programs, including ChatGPS, are nowhere near being as intelligent as a human being. The most obvious flaw is that they cannot even count! They sometimes put 5 or 6 legs on an elephant, 2 ears on the same side, 7 fingers on a human hand, attach a right arm to a left shoulder, do not follow instructions where I specify the number of items I want in the image, and so forth. This is a widely recognized problem, mentioned by other AI artists. One AI generator I use is based on Chat GPS. Furthermore, a quadriplegic doesn’t need a Neuralink to use one. All he needs is a voice recognition program that can translate speech to text. These are widely available. He can speak his prompts, and the program can translate that into computer prompts. It should be kept in mind that AI is not intelligent at all. It is simply a very complex computer program with a huge database. AI art is a collaboration between the person who wrote the program and input the data, and the artist, using the computer as a tool, like a hammer. Yes, a very complex tool, but nothing more. For Musk to promote this as anything but a tool is fundamentally dishonest. And for him to promote a device like Neuralink without some extremely extensive tests is downright irrational and irresponsible. Scientists are just beginning to begin to understand the workings and complexity of the brain. If at some point engineers produce a device that can be used by a paralytic to operate his own limbs, more power to them. We are not there yet, and we won’t be for quite awhile.

    • If Musk can do it, then he is as capable as scientists, who have committed many sins. Most of them seek only profit.

      But we’ll have to wait and see.

  • No Tks. You can have mine, just like the last thing we were “offered.” For the comments with positive pov’s, I don’t have anything nice to say to you so I’ll stop there.

  • I wonder sometimes the placing of a neural network or chip inside the human brain with the intent of increasing the computational power of the cerebrum ie make one smarter may have a one problem. Like attempting to put a V-12 motor into a Volkswagen, it might be possible but the strain upon the entire chassis and components exceed the limits of resilience and strength and failure will occur. Our brains may have actual limits as to the amount of intellectual power that can be contained or dealt with safely before overload of the our circuitry and it trips a circuit breaker and we succumb in one fashion or another. While the use for the brain/CNS injured is a fantastic display of ingenuity for the furtherment of the human condition, it may expose serious issues as well when tinkering with a normal, fully functioning human central nervous system. Like our meddling with genetics and viruses with the explicit attempts to weaponize such things could lead to a fatal journey for all of mankind, all because of human hubris and stupidity think that they too can play God.

  • Has anyone read the part about the employees complaining about the animals suffering needlessly to the point where they chew off their body parts! Anyone who can do such inhumane and barbaric experiments on animals is devoid of a conscious and will not have a problem watching a human suffer. God didn’t create us to become half machine and half human. This will get away from them just like AI is starting to.

  • Good article Marie. I appreciated the effort you put into researching it.
    The marketing hype about how we can be super intelligent and do all these wonderful things for humanity without any honest and open discussion (by the developers) about the risk, reminds me of another ancient event that didn’t end well.
    ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭3:4‭-‬7‬ ‭ASV‬‬
    [4] And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: [5] for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil. [6] And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat. [7] And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig-leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
    I am sure everyone can see the paralell.
    I can also see that, perhaps, in the near future we will become so ‘intelligent’ that in destroying our world/community we will be reduced to wearing aprons of leaves.
    The apostle Paul wrote, ‭‭I Corinthians‬ ‭10:23‬ ‭NKJV‬‬
    [23] All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.”
    Or, as someone else said, “Just because we can, it doesn’t mean we should.”

  • Musk is well deserving of the criticism he has sustained and much much more.
    He is a complete and utter fake and Deep State as the day is long.
    His replacement Censorship Chief is straight outta Davis, and censorship goes on unabated, especially regarding sick things Elon endorses, lihe Transexual Surgery.
    Disclosing the horrors of that bike practice will get you booted in a red hot second.
    You really need to research Elon a lot more.
    Your comments on him are embarrassingly ignorant, and it’s not a small matter to defend evil.

  • Are you concerned about this? Yes, I’m concerned about the “misuse” of brain-computer interfaces. This type of technology needs to be thoroughly tested and “wisely” regulated to prevent abuse.

  • “I’m grateful that he’s pro-human.” Lol! Oh no, he’s not like that “climate disaster crowd spewing self-hatred and despair.” Instead, he’s sticking it to space, and all life on earth, with 5/6G satellites, aka WMDs, delivering disaster for real. X marks the spot for digital IDs and social credit currency. Tesla’s a hot spot for ion lithium batteries turning vehicles into ever ready fire traps. And if you believe in benevolent billionaires, that’s the kind of religion from which no bogus brain chip to make you smarter, instead of remotely controlled, will save you.

  • Waaaay too scary especially when everything is so ‘connected’ & electrical. I’ve watched too many movies! 😉

    I’m not even sure I’d get a pacemaker if I needed one. ‘Someone’ at a lab is monitoring it???? Yeah right. With the amount of loss of power lately in the last 2 years, that’s a big no thank you.

  • And why do we need this? Why not focus on developing an interface external to the brain. No surgery would be required with no side effects. It may be more expensive, but so what.

  • The problem in society is not smarts, but wisdom. Rather, the lack of wisdom. Those are two completely different things. Some of the most foolish things I have heard and read have come from very smart people. A person of average intelligence but wise can outperform a foolish person who is smart.

    Wisdom is learned, not innate. No brain insert can change that. With that recognition, no way will I get that chip.

  • Elon Musk comes from an elite generational Illuminati family. He has either been subject to military tribunal and replaced by deep fake technology, or made a deal to cooperate with the so called “white hat”Alliance that is moving ever so slowly to liberate our planet.

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