Musk’s brain-computer interface company announced Thursday a video of a 9-year-old macaque named “Pager” playing a video game of table tennis. Pug has a Neuralink device implanted in his brain. In the video, Pug uses its brain activity to learn to control a computer to “taste a delicious banana milkshake provided through a metal straw.” When the Neuralink personnel disconnected the joystick, Pug was still playing the game. Musk said in a tweet on Thursday that Neuralink’s first product will allow paralyzed people to use their minds to play with their phones faster than those using their thumbs. However, this future seems far away.
As a new technology like “black technology”, brain-computer interface has emerged in recent years some new research and applications. For example, studies have shown that patients with cerebral palsy can drink beer with a robotic arm through a brain-computer interface. And Neuralink is undoubtedly a leader in the field of brain-computer interface. As early as July 2019, Musk said: “Monkeys can already be implanted with a brain-computer interface, and only use the brain to control the computer.” Previously, Neuralink had publicly demonstrated the experiment of implanting a brain-computer interface in pigs. Musk said: “A new goal in the future is to transmit signals from the Neuralink device implanted in the brain to the Neuralink device in the main nerve clusters of other body parts, so that paralyzed patients can walk again.” Musk also revealed that the device can Wireless charging, so the implanter looks no different from other people, and there will be no abnormal feelings.
I understand that many neuroscientists don’t like Musk because of his violent talk, but it is better to discuss things as much as possible. At the same time, public opinion is easily driven away by Musk’s propaganda, thinking that he has really achieved some breakthrough, and neuroscience is really like a long night before he injects capital. This is not good either. The following is my rough view: Mind playing games, monkeys playing ping-pong, these are not breakthroughs. Brain-computer interface has been a technology for more than ten years, and my colleague of ping-pong game has also been doing it for more than two years. Pay attention to the right hand of the monkey holding the straw, you will find that it actually controls the racket by controlling the right hand. The principle is also very simple. The neural signal used to control the racket is collected from the motor cortex and the area related to the hand. So that a simple single-layer neural network decoding is sufficient. Source: Neuralink However, Neuralink contributes. First of all, its equipment is very good. The main features include 1. No wires can be seen. I don’t know how it is powered, there may be hidden wires connected to the battery? Maybe the implant itself has enough power? In any case, it is much lighter than the electrodes commonly used in academia. (Added by Ma Daha in the comment area: wireless charging) 2 More than two thousand signal channels, in principle, it is possible to collect information on the activity of a single neuron of this order of magnitude. The electrodes commonly used in academia now require wires to be connected to external devices, which are very fragile and do not have so many channels. 3 On-chip calculations. There are many steps from electrode collection to nerve signal: signal amplification, filtering and noise reduction, digitization, and action potential detection. Neuralink’s implanted chip completes all these operations, and the rate at which Bluetooth outputs action potentials. This is not a new concept. I have seen some concept machines, but combining 1 and 2 needs to solve the power problem, and it is not easy to do a good job. Since there is no public data to see the signal quality, I will put a question mark for the time being. 4 Surgical robot. This can save a lot of time, and more importantly, it can be more accurate and repeatable than manually implanting electrodes. In addition, the objective function of the private enterprise is very different from that of the scientific community: the academic community pays more attention to publishing articles, and the enterprise can aim to treat the paralyzed market. Therefore, I personally welcome companies like Neuralink to develop brain-computer interface technology.