Updated: Jul 5
Have you ever imagined the possibility of using your smartphone with your brain? Like, being able to operate your device with your mind, and not hands? We already know about innovations like Bluetooth and infrared which make wireless connectivity feasible. Using the same logic, we can operate a machine with our thoughts if we can find a way to connect our brain to the machine. Sounds exciting?
Brain-Machine Interface (BMI) which is being developed by the Neuralink Corporation of Elon Musk and team is promoting such an amazing concept. During the initial phase, the BMI will be aimed to help paralyzed individuals to operate their machines without the need of an external aid.
As the world gradually comes to realize the need for inclusiveness, more technological innovations that benefit physically challenged humans are being developed across the world. Rather than treating paralyzed individuals as outcasts, technology can be harnessed to assist them enjoy equal access to world like others.
What is Neuralink?
Neuralink is a neurotechnology organization that builds implantable brain-machine interface (BMI). It was established by Elon Musk and a group of scientists. BMI is aimed at easing the treatment of neurological diseases by enabling the individuals to regain their motor and sensory functions with the aid of technology.
How does Neuralink function?
Neuralink is basically engineering with brain. By connecting the neurons in our brain with machines, users of the technology will be able to control it with their brain. Many micro threads which transmit lots of electrodes are implanted into the brain segments which manage the senses and motor functions. To aid effective operations, a Neuralink device known as Link that operates on a battery is attached just outside of the head.
The signals generated in the brain are transmitted by the threads to the chip and these are passed to the external device via Bluetooth. This arrangement allows the users to operate the device with the brain signals without any external aid.
Musk and his team had demonstrated how Neuralink devices work last year. They displayed three pigs implanted with Neuralink device and demonstrated how the signals from their brains were transmitted wirelessly to a nearby computer. Prior to this experiment, Musk and his team had shown how Neuralink operates using rats in 2019.
It is understood that the team is planning to begin experiments with humans in the nearest future. Though the Covid pandemic has slowed down progress of the project and similar experiments, the company is preparing to speed up experimenting BMI in humans.
Who will benefit from this innovation?
The Neuralink team’s first objective is to implement the innovation in the medical sector. Most importantly, the technology will be targeted at individuals living with neurological diseases like paralysis or spinal cord injuries. The short-term aim is to help them avoid depending on others to operate computer or mobile phones. In the long-term, the aim is to help them regain their motor and sensory functions so they can access opportunities like every other person.
What are the possible challenges?
Though hailed globally as a groundbreaking invention, the BMI has faced a number of challenges since the beginning of the project. One of such challenges is the natural resistance of the human body towards foreign objects. The human body is naturally designed to resist foreign object. This can pose a major threat to the idea of implanting the device in humans. There are also concerns about the risk involved in fixing implants in the body, as this will typically involve carrying out a major surgery. Not many people would want to go through such an excruciating process.
In response to these concerns, the Neuralink team is trying to develop affordable and less cumbersome technology which is able to effectively handle brain data without posing any threat to your brain cells.