Updated Neurointerface by Neuralink: Main Features and Expert Opinions about Prospects of the Device
In August of 2020, the American billionaire and businessman Elon Musk presented a new version of the implantable neurointerface. The device was developed by Neuralink founded by the businessman. In the long-term, the innovative device is expected to help cure neurological diseases and to eventually bring together the humankind and artificial intelligence.
What kind of a device is it? What features does it have? What do experts say about neurointerface? Read about all of it in the article below.
Neurointerface: peculiarities of the invention
The first version of the neurointerface that enables the connection between the brain and computer was presented by Neuralink in 2019. It was a device with electrodes attached behind the ear. This summer, Musk presented an advanced version of the invention, displayed the second-generation implantation system, and reported about the trials of the device.
How does the device look like?
The updated neurointerface model is a chip implant sized as a small coin – 23×8 mm. The device is called Link V0.9.
The device is equipped with 1024 electrodes that read brain activity and stimulate neurons. They look like wires that are several times thinner than human hair. Electrodes are directly connected to the brain and get into contact with neurons.
Data from the chip is transferred wirelessly using Bluetooth technology. In the future, a standalone smartphone app will be developed to manage the device. Users will be able to transfer data at the distance of up to 10 m.
The device is charged with a magnetic charger. One charge lasts for the whole day of work.
How is the neurointerface implanted?
The main feature of the neurointerface is that it is implanted directly into the brain, collects data from the brain cortex and transfers it to external sources.
Implantation is carried out by a robotized system. It was developed by the specialists of Neuralink together with industrial designers of Woke Studio agency. Developers consulted with practicing surgeons.
Implantation takes place as follows. Robotic surgeon makes a small hole in the skull. Then it connects a chip to the brain using flexible threadlike electrodes. Robot movements are very accurate allowing avoiding vessels and arteries during the surgery. In its turn, this allows minimizing brain damage and prevents escape of blood.
According to Elon Musk, implantation process takes around an hour. The procedure is performed without general anesthesia, and the person getting a Link V0.9 implanted will be able to go home on the same day.
The hole, through which the surgery is performed, will cover with skin with time. Thanks to this, a person with the implanted neurochip will not have any distinguishing characteristics.
If desired, the device can be removed painlessly. This procedure will in no way influence functions of the nervous system.
It is planned that the implantation surgery will be expensive for a start. But with time, the price will be reduced to several thousand dollars.
Trials of the invention
The device has been already tested on pigs. They were chosen as trial subjects because they are similar to people and like to eat.
The online presentation featured a pig that had been living with the Link V0.9 chip implanted in its brain for two months at that time.
Despite having a foreign object in the brain area, it remained healthy and did not differ from an ordinary pig.
Researchers showed a graph that demonstrated changes in the animal’s brain activity. Using the information that the chip read from the brain, it was possible to predict the movement of the pig's limbs while running.
To prove that removal of the implant is safe, another pig was shown during the presentation, whose neurointerface had been removed from the skull before. At the time of the online presentation, it was feeling well.
It is expected that the first clinical trials of the chip implant will take place with the engagement of a small number of patients. They will aim at curing paralysis. The start date for trials is not known yet.
Advantages of the neurointerface
The invention of Elon Musk’s company is not the first of its kind. Similar interfaces that enable the connection of the brain and computer already exist, but Neuralink chip has a number of advantages.
Neurointerfaces that are already used for various purposes are usually wired and massive. They are implanted using rough electrodes. And the implantation surgery is carried out by neurosurgeons. Upon the installation of such neurodevices as Utah Array, there are risks of stroke during the surgery. Moreover, after the implantation, up to 5% probability of infection remains.
In its turn, Link V0.9 stands out for a small size and cannot be seen from the outside. Its implantation is carried out by a robot surgeon and is expected to take little time and be painless. Wireless communication is used to transfer data, which minimizes the risks of bacteria getting in the area of brain from the environment. Besides, the device is equipped with a bigger number of electrodes, which potentially ensures simultaneous access to different parts of the brain.
What benefits will the invention bring?
The implantable Link V0.9 chip is intended to track brain signals, to stimulate different parts of the brain to achieve certain goals.
It is expected that the technology will make life simpler for people that suffer from neurological problems. The neurodevice will be used to fight against Alzheimer and Parkinson diseases, insomnia, severe pain, and convulsion. It will be helpful in case of blood strokes, addictions, anxiety, hearing and sight loss. Furthermore, the technology will help to recover sensitivity and movements in case of paralysis.
At the same time, developers of the neurointerface state that the implant can be used not only for medical purposes. It is expected that the chip will allow controlling computerized devices with the power of thought, for example, a smartphone or Tesla car, intentionally record memories, and upload mind.
What do experts think about neurointerface by Neuralink?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recognized Link V0.9 chip implant as an innovative product. However, the expert society expresses different opinions regarding the advantages, benefits, and prospects of the neurodevice.
For example, the scientist of Bogomoletz Institute of Physiology Dmytro Isaev told journalists of Radio NV that he considered the fact that specialists of Neuralink managed to implant electrodes in the pig’s brain with the pig feeling alright as indicative.
However, he thinks that the second-generation chip implant, which was shown at the presentation, cannot realize the function that would allow people to communicate with thoughts not using the speech. According to him, devices that would help to manage computers using the brain may appear in the future. But at the current development level of the neurophysiology, transmission of thoughts using such devices is impossible.
Tech consultant Thomas Smith reports in his expert article that in order to realize the medical and other goals stated by Musk, functionality of Link V0.9 may require to be expanded.
The expert notes that in the current version, the device interacts with the brain cortex. However, without access to its deeper structures, it will be much more difficult to fight against memory loss, depression, anxiety, and to upload new information. For example, to realize the last task, one probably needs to obtain access to subcortical nuclei that take part in the formation of memories. In their turn, they are located in the depth of big hemispheres, where, supposedly, electrodes of Link V0.9 cannot reach.
At the same time, Thomas believes that the current version of the implant may indeed turn out to be useful for solution of different tasks in the future. For example, it could be used to manage prostheses with the help of brain. It would help to restore the tactile sense, which plays a great role for motor skills.
Thomas thinks that the current version of the neurointerface probably can stimulate auditory cortex and primary visual cortex. As a result, brain would be able to generate a certain tone, a flashing dot or flash of light, which could be perceived only by the device holder. Such a function could be used for notifications about the incoming messages on smartphone or an obstacle emerging in front of Tesla.
Lecturer of the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Sheffield Tennore Ramesh considers that artificial intelligence technologies could help Neuralink realize a number of long-term goals.
Neuroscience research fellow of the University of Toronto Graeme Moffat said that Neuralink’s development was a leap forward in the modern science thanks to its unique characteristics: small size, wireless capability, portability, etc.
Overall, different neurobiologists agree that Neuralink has achieved significant success since the time the first version of the neurointerface was presented. Nevertheless, scientists think that more research has to be conducted in order to determine the sustainability of the device and check its
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