• Justin Friedberg

Matter Under Mind

A pig had a microchip put in its brain.

I know it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but it’s not. This really happened, and there's only one billionaire who would ever think to do something like this: Elon Musk.

It’s difficult to imagine that, in this age of the internet, anyone has not heard of Elon Musk, who some call the real life Iron Man. Whether it’s Tesla, PayPal or SpaceX, Musk’s companies and products have made him a household name. But maybe there’s a company of his that you don’t know about, one that could revolutionize the way we use our brains: Neuralink.

Founded in July of 2016, the company is attempting to develop a brain-machine interface, or BMI, that would be implanted into the brain. They call this device the ‘link’, hence the name Neuralink. The link would, according to Musk, allow you to control phones, computers, and other technological devices with your mind. It could also be utilized to cure conditions such as dementia, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries, blindness, insomnia, and memory loss.

Musk was and continues to be very confident about this company, personally supplying one hundred million of the company's one hundred and fifty eight million dollars in total funding. While this sounds like a lot of money to… well anyone, this only makes up around 0.10% of Musk’s total net worth of ninety four billion dollars. So, with that much money having been pumped into the project, what have they produced thus far?

The link, which is the size of a large coin, is currently capable of showing neurons firing in real time through the use of flexible electrode threads, each of which are ten times thinner than a human hair. These extremely tiny threads puncture the outermost layer of the brain and are able to detect the electrical pulses from the nerve cells within the brain. They are then able to send this information from the link, using bluetooth, to an outside computing device that would process the information. The device charges inductively, meaning that it uses the same type of technology that you can use to wirelessly charge your smartphone. The one key difference is that this time, it’s through your skull.

One of the most surprising things about the link is the installation process. Musk claims that the procedure can be done in under an hour using a very precise robot without general anesthesia. He said as much in his most recent presentation on August 28, 2020, adding that “You can basically go in in the morning and leave the hospital in the afternoon.” Also, the procedure leaves no noticeable neural damage, meaning the robot inserts the electrodes into places where there are no arteries or veins. Therefore, there is no bleeding and no long term damage. This means that the link can be taken out at any time, leaving no damage to your brain or overall body. You can even have more than one link implanted into your brain, each gathering information and sending out signals for a different purpose.

The company has been testing its products on pigs. Multiple pigs had the link, or two of them, implanted into their brains to prove its safety and effectiveness. When the pigs were put onto a treadmill, using the data being sent out by the links in the pig's head at real time, scientists were able to almost perfectly predict the position of all of the pigs' limbs as they walked.

Near the end of the presentation, Musk spoke about what this technology might be able to do in the decades to come: “In the future you will be able to save and replay memories. You could basically store your memories as a backup and restore the memories. You could potentially download them into a new body or into a robot body.” Some may call this the death of privacy and some may call this the beginning to the end of death itself. Regardless, we can all agree that the future is going to be a very different place, for better or for worse.