About a year ago, Elon Musk’s company, Neuralink, showed us a Gertrude pig with an implanted brain implant. And since then, the researchers did not waste time: in the new demonstration, you can see how the monkey Pager literally plays ping-pong with the power of his mind.
To achieve this, the engineers inserted two chips called the N1 Link into the monkey’s sensorimotor cortex 6 weeks before filming the video. The thing is that neurons in the cortex act in a directional manner, which makes it easy to read impulses from them and compare them with actions.
This is what the scientists did: after implanting the chips, they gave the monkey a joystick and rewarded a delicious banana puree from a metal tube every time it hit the ball in ping-pong with a racket. At the same time, the N1 Link chips collected statistics of brain activity in order to understand which groups of neurons are responsible for certain actions with the joystick (in this case, only two are “move up” and “move down”).
Each of the chips is connected to the brain through 1,024 electrodes, and every 25 ms dumps information to a computer via Bluetooth – enough data to detect clear signals from the brain to the hands. As a result, it turned out to “decode” the brain commands to control the joystick, after which the scientists took it and removed it.
Visualization of the activity of neurons in the monkey’s brain, combined with deviations of the joystick in different directions.
However, the memorized actions remained, so when Pager saw the ping-pong, he was still “thinking” where to direct the racket to hit the ball. In other words, he began to play with the power of thought. However, the creators of the chip say that such a gameplay itself is far from new and was demonstrated back in the early 2000s. The credit for Neuralink is that they got rid of the wires and found a way to connect chips to the brain with minimal surgery.
In any case, inspired by the success of this experiment, the company is not going to stop there. First of all, the researchers at Neuralink want to improve their chip so that it can recognize more gradations of action than simple “up” and “down”. This can allow paralyzed people to fully enter text and generally use a smartphone with the power of thought.
In the future, Neuralink engineers want to use their chip to restore physical activity for such people: N1 Link will read signals from the brain and transmit them to electrostimulate nerves and muscles, thereby helping a person learn to control their limbs again.
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