Neuralink, the August 2020 update and the search for new collaborators

Neuralink's live streaming conference was held tonight where the latest updates were announced. Exactly last summer we saw the birth of the neural interfaces project created by Elon Musk. In less than a year, a major Neuralink update arrives in August 2020. Let's find out if what was declared a few weeks ago has come true.

As stated by Elon Musk at the beginning of the conference, the main purpose of this is to get people to work for Neuralink , especially engineers are sought . The new hires will help get the project moving forward, making the final product accessible and reliable. Musk believes that anyone who wants a Neuralink should and can have one , thus solving primarily important brain and neurological problems. This is thanks to a device implanted in the skull but without it showing.

Neuralink will be able to solve problems such as memory loss, hearing, blindness, paralysis, depression, insomnia, extreme pain, seizures, anxiety, addiction, stroke, and brain damage . How to solve these problems? Simply by capturing neurological signals and correcting them, creating an artificial neuronal link. However, all this is possible thanks to medical research that has discovered how to read the signal produced by a neuron.

Devices for reading the neuron

One of the first devices to read the neuron was the Utah Array , a device with about 100 channels for each array. The Utah Array is made up of pneumatic hammers and cables, but there is a risk of various infections. This device would also be aesthetically strange, you should be with boxes in your head every day. To be used, the Utah Array also needs accurate medical professionalism from the subject but in many cases it is difficult to have or acquire it. Although it is a very accurate tool, most people could not afford it.

One solution to these problems could be the use of deep brain stimulation . With this technique, few electrodes placed in the scalp are used. Transcranial stimulation sends shocks into the brain, causing an electrical alteration in it, thus studying brain interconnections. In this way, however, important information about broadband is lost, thus operating with great limits. Functioning could be improved by increasing the number of magnets used in the scalp but this is not a very good solution.

What device could then be used? Obviously Musk proposes Neuralink whose architecture has been simplifying in the last year. In 2019 we had seen a device to be placed behind the ear to which wires connected to the brain. In the update of August 2020 Neuralink proposes to use a single device placed towards the center of the skull , replacing a small part of it, as large as the size of a coin. The cables run from the device to the brain for no more than 1 inch.

Neuralink v0.9 exploded

Neuralink version 0.9

A new architecture is proposed in the August update of Neuralink. Neuralink will be composed of 1024 channels, it has dimensions 23 mm x 8 mm being flush with the skull (whose thickness is about 10 mm), completely invisible to the naked eye apart from a small scar. Neuralink contains all the sensors of a smartwatch : accelerometer, temperature, pressure to monitor health and alert you in the event of a possible heart attack or stroke or other damage. With Neuralink you can also listen to music, as if your smartphone were in your brain. An app in the smartphone can in fact communicate with the implanted device using low-energy Bluetooth.

Data transmission takes place wirelessly with speeds of the order of megabits and the battery lasts the whole day . For charging, inductive charging is used as if it were a smartwatch or smartphone. This way you can use it all day and charge it overnight, thus having all the main features the next day.

Inductive charging

To insert Neuralink, it is necessary to use a robot of great surgical precision and automated as much as possible. To do this you need to use a very advanced robot. Currently, professional figures are sought to help in the development of the robot and Neuralink. At the moment it is estimated that the implant can be done in less than an hour, with an operation carried out in the morning and discharge in the afternoon, without the use of general anesthesia.

The surgical robot

Implant Neuralink

In the Neuralink update announced in August, there are also revolutions regarding the implant. A small part of the skull will be removed, the robot connects the wires of the device with the brain, the device replaces the portion of the skull previously removed by welding it with a special glue.

The ultimate goal is to let the robot perform the entire surgical operation, from the incision to the reclosing of the scalp. The insertion of the very thin electrodes must be carried out carefully, thus not having bleeding. In this way, no veins or artery are touched and therefore there will be no brain damage.

How Neuralink implantation takes place

Does Neuralink really work?

After all the details exposed it is legitimate to wonder if the device really works. During the presentation Musk showed what he calls the three little pigs experiment :

  • Joyce a happy and contented pig with no implant
  • Gertrude a pig with Neuralink implanted in her skull and connected to neurons in her face for two months. During the presentation you will hear beeps related to the brain signal in real time, produced every time it touched with the muzzle of food or anything else.
  • Dorothy a pig who had the Neuralink implant but later removed. This is to demonstrate how the device can be removed without having brain damage. The implant is therefore reversible and can be removed in case the patient changes his mind or wants to update it. Before, during and after the implant, one remains outwardly indistinguishable, as if Neuralink were not present.
The white dots represent the neural peaks while the blue signal shows an accumulation of the neural peaks in the implantation region.

Another experiment carried out on other pigs illustrated how it is also possible to have more Neuralinks implanted in the skull , sending more signals to the outside and being totally indistinguishable.

Another experiment was carried out with a pig. By placing it on the treadmill, it was possible to predict the position of all limbs with very high accuracy .

True movement and predicted movement of each limb

Is it possible to "write" in neurons and stimulate them? First of all it is essential to have a precise control of the electrodes in space and time, a wide range of current for the different brain regions (some require a lot of current, others very little) and obviously not to damage the brain over time. Brain stimulation was analyzed with two photon microscopes thanks to which it is possible to read in real time which neuron is affected by brain activity. It is estimated that millions of neurons are stimulated with approximately 1000 electrodes implanted.

Neuralink's success in the August update

In July 2020, Neuralink received an FDA designation for clinical advancement. Following the FDA guidelines Neuralink will be a very safe device. Musk further states that Neuralink like Tesla will only be a 5-star job, giving users the maximum possible.

Neuralink searches for previous figures even without experience regarding the brain, an announcement aimed especially at those who have already developed something electronic

The Neuralink article , the August 2020 update, and the search for new contributors comes from TechCuE .