Elon Musk's Neuralink successfully implanted chips in pig brains

"It's kind of like a Fitbit in your skill with tiny wires," Musk said.

Pig

A pig that had a Neuralink chip implanted into its skull.

Credit: Neuralink
  • Neuralink is Elon Musk's company that's building brain-machine interfaces.
  • The company's ultimate goal is to build an interface that connects human brains directly to computers.
  • At a demonstration on Friday, Musk unveiled the company's latest progress, including that it had successfully installed its interface in the skulls of multiple pigs.


Elon Musk's Neuralink is getting closer to its wildly ambitious goal of building a machine that links our brains to computers. This "brain-machine interface" would first be used for medical purposes, like helping paraplegics walk or treating degenerative diseases.

But the endgame is for humans to achieve "good AI symbiosis." Why? To Musk, the future of AI poses a serious existential threat to humanity, even more so than nuclear weapons. So, "if you can't beat em, join em," as the tech mogul said in 2017.

Neuralink's demonstration on Friday showed it's making progress on its brain-machine interface, but still has a ways to go. Here are three highlights from the event.

​Neuralink implanted a chip inside the skull of pig

At the demonstration were three pigs in pens. One pig, named Gertrude, has been living healthily for two months with the implant in its skull, according to Musk. As Gertrude snuffled around the pen, a screen displayed real-time spikes in neural activity coming from the pig's brain.

"We have a healthy and happy pig, initially shy but obviously high energy and, you know, kind of loving life, and she's had the implant for two months," Musk said.

The coin-sized implant was read-only, meaning Gertrude wasn't using it to control any device. But the demo showed that the implant was capable of wirelessly relaying neural data to external computers. What's more, a pre-recorded video unveiled at the event showed that Neuralink was able to predict the pig's limb movements with "high accuracy" during a treadmill experiment.

Musk also said Neuralink had implanted a chip into another pig, Dorothy, and then removed it without health complications.

"What Dorothy illustrates is that you can put in the Neuralink, remove it, and be healthy, happy and indistinguishable from a normal pig," Musk said.

\u200bNeuralink implant

Illustration of Neuralink implant.

Credit: Neuralink

​Neuralink could enable people to replay memories

"The future is going to be weird," Musk said. "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."

Sound unnerving? Musk sort of agreed:

"This is increasingly sounding like a Black Mirror episode," Musk said, referring to the dystopian TV show.

​Neuralink wants robots to install the interface on humans

\u200bThe location of a Neuralink implant in a human skull.

The location of a Neuralink implant in a human skull.

Credit: Neuralink / Big Think

Musk said Neuralink eventually wants to use a surgical robot to install the interfaces into human skulls. Neuralink has so far used robots to implant all of its chips, but these experiments have been limited to rodents, monkeys and pigs, according to Musk.

Neuralink hasn't revealed how much the procedure might cost for humans in the future. Musk said it'll be "quite expensive" at first, but hopes the price will eventually drop to a few thousand dollars.

"I think it should be possible to get it similar to Lasik," he said.

Of course, Neuralink still faces many safety concerns and regulatory hurdles. But in July, the company received FDA Breakthrough Device designation, which expedites approval for technologies "that provide for more effective treatment or diagnosis of life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating diseases or conditions."

The next major step for the company will be demonstrating that its technology works safely and effectively in humans. In 2019, Musk said he hopes to begin human testing by the end of 2020, though it's unclear whether that'll happen.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

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  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
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