Using a brain-computer interface to “cure” tinnitus, Musk’s vision of Neuralink really works?

The complex and delicate brain enables human beings to perceive various emotions such as joy, anger, sorrow and joy, and has the ability to think… Although we use our brains every day, we still do not fully understand this complex organ.

▲ Picture from: Unsplash

Although we still have a lot to explore about the brain, it does not prevent people from "crossing the river by feeling the stones", trying to use it while understanding. Elon Musk (Elon Musk) is one of the founders of the American neurotechnology and brain-computer interface company Neuralink, which is the idea of ​​"brain-computer interface".

▲ Picture from: Neuralink

Not long ago, when faced with a question from a Twitter user about "Is Neuralink promising to treat tinnitus?", Musk's reply was: This may be achieved in less than 5 years. Because the current version of Neuralinks is a semi-universal neural read/write device with about 1000 electrodes, future generations of Neuralinks will increase the number of electrodes by orders of magnitude.

▲ Picture from: Twitter

Tinnitus is the abnormal sound hallucinations such as buzzing and neighing in the ear or in the brain in the absence of an external sound source. It is not a disease in itself, but a symptom of certain diseases. It can currently be improved by treating the underlying cause or by other treatments that reduce or mask noise, making tinnitus less noticeable.

▲ Picture from: AARP

There are 86 billion neurons in the human brain responsible for sending and receiving information, and neurons communicate through electrical signals. Neuralink's neural implant and electrode array device "Link" needs to be directly connected to the brain, electrodes are placed near neurons to detect action potentials, and electrical currents are sent through the electrodes for stimulation.

▲ Picture from: Neuralink

Tinnitus can be caused when the nerve connecting the inner ear and the brain (called the vestibulocochlear nerve) is damaged due to prolonged loud noises, injury, or a lack of blood supply. Neuralink's device connects to the cerebral cortex, just to make up for the brain's processing of motor sensory input or where output capability is compromised.

In fact, it has long been practiced to treat the ear in a similar way, such as implanting a cochlear implant. Combining theoretical assumptions and subsequent development of Neuralink's devices, it seems feasible to use brain-computer interface technology to treat tinnitus, but is it really feasible?

▲ Picture from: Neuralink

Neuralink's technologies, originally intended to help paralyzed patients regain their independence by controlling computers and mobile devices, allow people to communicate more easily through text or speech synthesis, and have the potential to be used in the treatment of a wide range of neurological disorders, recovery In sensory and motor function (eg reducing Parkinson's-induced motor impairment).

Judging from the current development of equipment and technology, many of Neuralink's ideas seem to be just blueprints on paper, with no future.

▲ Picture from: Neuralink

In addition, when it comes to Neuralink's brain-computer interface technology, its risks cannot be ignored. The FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) classifies Neuralink as a Class III medical device (ie, the highest risk category).

This means that Neuralink must successfully pass strict FDA supervision before conducting human trials. To be approved, the company also has to provide detailed clinical trial data from non-human test subjects. Used to justify moving to the next stage.

▲ Picture from: Neuralink

Neuralink has previously conducted a "Monkey MindPong" experiment, implanting a brain-computer interface device in the monkey Pager's brain and connecting it to the computer running the game, successfully realizing the use of the monkey's brain to play the game of table tennis. However, tests conducted by Neuralink have also led to the death of monkeys, prompting many criticisms of animal welfare.

▲ Picture from: Neuralink

While Musk is optimistic about Neuralink's future, the unknown dangers make this road seem less easy. What's more, Musk has said before that Tesla will achieve fully autonomous driving technology by the end of 2019. Now it is 2022, and the boasted "Haikou" has not been realized. It seems that the hope for the development of brain-computer interface technology may be more cautious.

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