How Does Neuralink Work? Discover Your Brain’s Untapped Potential!

Neuralink N1 Chip

The Back Story of Neuralink

Neuralink, founded in 2016 by Elon Musk, aims to revolutionize human-computer interaction. The neurotechnology company seeks to create a brain-computer interface (BCI) that translates thoughts into actions. During a revealing discussion on the Joe Rogan Podcast, Musk shared the intriguing backstory behind Neuralink.

He expressed concerns about the slow interface speed between the human brain and computing devices, noting that using our thumbs on smartphones is much slower than a computer’s processing capabilities. Musk’s vision for Neuralink was driven by the desire to overcome this roadblock, developing a high-bandwidth, direct brain-to-computer interface to enhance human cognition and seamlessly integrate with advancing technology.

What Is Neuralink Chip Made of?

Neuralink Chip Parts

The Neuralink chip consists of several advanced components, each designed to interact seamlessly with the human brain:

1. Biocompatible Enclosure 
The implant is protected by a hermetically sealed, biocompatible enclosure that is robust enough to endure physiological conditions far harsher than those typically found within the human body.

Neuralink Biocompatible enclosure seal

2. Battery 
 
Powering the N1 Implant is a small, wirelessly charged battery. This allows for convenient recharging from outside the body using a compact, inductive charger.

Neuralink Battery

3. Chips and Electronics 
The device includes custom, low-power chips and sophisticated electronics that process and wirelessly transmit neural signals to an application that decodes these signals into specific actions and intents.

Neuralink inner chip

4. Threads 
To capture neural activity, the implant utilizes 1024 electrodes distributed over 64 ultra-thin, highly flexible threads. These threads are designed to minimize damage to brain tissue during and after implantation.

Neuralink threads

How Does the Neuralink Implant Take Place?  

The Neuralink implant is placed using a highly specialized surgical robot due to the delicate nature of the procedure. This robot is equipped to handle the ultra-thin, flexible threads that contain electrodes. These threads are inserted into the brain with precision to minimize tissue damage and ensure accurate placement. The robot uses advanced optics and sensors to guide the insertion process. Here’s what the surgical robot looks like:

neuralink surgical robot

Implantation Process

Preparation: The patient’s head is cleaned and positioned for surgery to ensure safety and accuracy.  

Mapping: A surgical robot uses advanced imaging to map the brain, identifying the best spots for electrode placement. 

Implantation: The robot delicately inserts thin, flexible threads with electrodes into the brain, minimizing tissue damage. 

Connection: Electrodes are connected to the Neuralink device, which is wirelessly charged and encased in biocompatible material.  

Testing and Calibration: The device is tested and adjusted to ensure it communicates properly with the Neuralink app.  

Closure and Recovery: The surgical site is closed, and the patient’s recovery and implant functionality are monitored. 

How Does Neuralink Work?

To understand the workings of Neuralink, let’s zoom into a specific part of the brain: the motor cortex. 

Motor Cortex Basics: 

This part of the brain is crucial for planning and executing movements. 

It’s mapped directly to various body parts but in a flipped and mirrored layout—meaning the right side of the body is controlled by the left side of the brain, and vice versa. 

Interestingly, the map isn’t proportional; the hands and face occupy more space than other parts, highlighting their importance in our interactions. 

Neural Activity and Movement:  

Function of brain structure

When you move your right thumb, neurons in a specific part of your left motor cortex kick into high gear, changing their firing patterns even before you move it. 

Hence, when we plan to move a body part, neurons in the motor cortex change their firing rate, even when just thinking about movement. This change allows researchers to detect neuron spikes, as Elon Musk mentioned, by reading the firing rates of neurons near implanted electrodes. This technology could potentially assist in tasks like controlling prosthetic limbs.

How Does Neuralink Work with the Brain? 

The interaction between the brain and the Neuralink chip works in several steps:

  1. Implantation: Ultra-fine electrode threads from the Neuralink chip are carefully inserted into specific areas of the brain.
  2. Signal Recording: These electrodes record the electrical signals that neurons emit when they communicate.
  3. Signal Processing: The Neuralink chip processes these signals to understand brain activity.
  4. Impulse Delivery: The electrodes can also deliver electrical impulses to the brain, influencing its activity.
  5. Applications: This bidirectional communication allows for monitoring and potentially treating neurological disorders, as well as enhancing brain functions.

Neuralink’s first-ever trial:  

Pig: On August 28, 2020, Elon Musk demonstrated Neuralink’s brain-computer interface using a pig named Gertrude. The device, implanted in Gertrude’s brain, monitored and displayed real-time neural activity as she interacted with her environment. Here’s an image demonstrating the brain activity of the pig

Neuralink Pig Trial

Reading Brain Activity of Pig

Monkey: In less than a year, the Neuralink N1 chip was fitted in the brain of a macaque monkey, the electrodes in the chip were able to detect and record the neural activity associated with the physical manipulation of a joystick during the ping-pong game. As the monkey learned to play the game using the joystick, the N1 chip recorded the specific brain signals linked to these motor actions.

Eventually, these signals could be used to predict and replicate the joystick movements without the need for physical manipulation, effectively allowing the monkey to control the game directly through thought. 

 Neuralink’s test on monkey

Neuralink’s test on monkey: live stream

Process Simplified: 

Before Neuralink: Brain → Hand → Joystick → Paddle 

With Neuralink: Brain → Decoder → Paddle 

Neuralink Human Trial 

The first Neuralink implant trial marked a significant milestone. On May 25, 2023, Neuralink received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an in-human clinical trial. On January 28, 2024, 29-year-old quadriplegic Noland Arbaugh was implanted with the Neuralink device.

The trial aimed to demonstrate the device’s ability to control computer functions via thought, enhancing Arbaugh’s quality of life. He reported significant improvements, such as playing video games and chess directly with his brain, showcasing the technology’s potential therapeutic benefits for individuals with severe spinal injuries. Here’s a link to the live video shared by the company recently.

Scenes After Human Trial

Let’s dive into the aftermath of Neuralink’s human trials and explore the impact on the brain and the subsequent improvements.

On May 8, 2024, Neuralink’s official blog site released an article updating the user experience and progress of the Neuralink chip implant. The PRIME Study (Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface), a clinical trial initiated by Neuralink, aims to evaluate the safety and efficacy of its BCI technology in humans.

This study monitors the chip’s technical performance remotely and measures its benefits by timing the duration of independent use and assessing its impact on participants’ quality of life.

Neuralink PRIME Study: Noland’s Journey and Achievements

Noland had initial doubts and questions about how does Neuralink work, especially given the groundbreaking nature of the technology. Like many people, he was curious about the safety, functionality, and real-life applications of the Neuralink implant. However, after undergoing the surgery and experiencing the implant’s capabilities firsthand, Noland’s doubts were significantly reduced. Soon after the surgery was successful, Noland was able to go home the following day. His biggest thanksgiving to PRIME Study was that he hadn’t been able to do things for 8 years and now doesn’t know where to allocate his attention. 
 

Before getting the Neuralink implant: 

 Noland used a mouth stick to control a tablet. This stick was held in his mouth and placed by a caregiver. However, he could only use it while sitting upright, and using it for a long time caused discomfort, muscle fatigue, and pressure sores. Plus, it made speaking difficult. 

After getting the Implant:

Noland Arbaugh official twitter profile 2024
Noland Arbaugh’s official X (formerly Twitter) profile
Noland Arbaugh twitter livestream May 5th 2024
Noland Arbaugh’s X (formerly Twitter) live stream on May 5th 2024

Noland uses the Link to play games and control his computer: Plays Mario Kart and Chess (Top to Bottom)

BCI Use and Improvements 

Research and Personal Use: 

  • Up to 8 hours per day for research sessions on weekdays. 
  • Over 10 hours per day for personal use on weekends. 
  • Recently, used the BCI device for 69 hours in one week (35 hours for research, 34 hours for personal use). 

BCI Performance and Challenges 

World Record in Cursor Control: 

Daily Hour use of neuralink by human chart
Peak performance of neuralink by human chart

Image: Top to Bottom (Daily Hours of BCI Use)

  • Bar chart comparing daily hours of BCI research sessions (blue) and independent use (orange).
  • Shows variability in usage, typically between 6 to 8 hours daily, with peaks up to 14 hours.

(Daily Peak BCI Performance)

  • Bar chart showing daily peak BCI performance in bits per second (BPS).
  • Displays initial improvement, followed by a dip, and then consistent recovery to around 8 BPS.

Potential Applications and Benefits

Think about it: Can you visualize a situation in which individuals with spinal cord injuries can direct their prosthetic limbs or use their phones just by thinking? This is the kind of future that Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) technology from Neuralink could make possible. Here is what could happen with Neuralink: 

  1. Medical Wonders
    • Neuralink aims to restore independence for people with disabilities by managing conditions like depression and anxiety through real-time brain monitoring. They also explore enhancing or restoring memory for those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
  2. Entertainment
    • Imagine seamlessly merging your thoughts with digital worlds, experiencing virtual and augmented reality like never before.
  3. Education
    • Memory enhancement could make learning more immersive and interactive, improving concentration and information processing.
  4. Communication
    • Telepathy could become a reality with brain-to-brain communication enabled by Neuralink and similar technologies.

Challenges and Risks Associated 

  1. Brain Injury or Infection
    • Implantation may damage sensitive brain tissue, causing serious complications or infections, and possibly increasing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
  2. Abuse and Misapplication
    • BCIs could be misused for control or surveillance by governments or corporations, raising ethical and security concerns.
  3. Uncertain Long-Term Effects
    • Long-term health and psychological impacts are not well understood and could be negative.
  4. Privacy Invasion
    • Neuralink could access thoughts and memories, risking personal privacy and enabling covert surveillance.
  5. Negative Psychological Effects
    • Dependency on BCIs might lead to addiction or feelings of inadequacy when not using the technology.
  6. Economic and Technical Challenges
    • High costs could limit accessibility, and BCIs might be difficult to repair or remove without causing further complications.

Looking Ahead: The Future of Neuralink

Neuralink is still in its infancy, but it’s making progress. The company has run its first human trial and already introduced a product called “Telepathy,” which enables users to control devices with their minds. Neuralink’s upcoming product for vision restoration is called “Blindsight.” It aims to give users some sight, even if it starts with low resolution like early video games. Here’s what could be next: 

Grow the network – Look for broader clinical trials involving more patients and conditions. Expect device performance and features to improve as Neuralink creates new applications and partnerships. 

Make it universal – Ultimately, they want to develop a BCI that works with any technology or brain region — one that is available to everyone at an affordable cost. 
  

As we embrace a new era, Neuralink’s groundbreaking technology promises to merge human intelligence with computers, creating exciting possibilities. Understanding “How does Neuralink work?” showcases its potential to enhance cognition, treat neurological disorders, and restore lost functions. By seamlessly integrating our brains with technology, Neuralink aims to overcome current limitations, paving the way for a harmonious blend of biology and machines. Elon Musk’s visionary project redefines human capabilities, blurring the lines between man and machine.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Neuralink trying to achieve?

Neuralink aims to enable communication between the human brain and computers, enhancing brain capabilities and offering solutions for various neurological disorders.

    2. How does Neuralink’s technology work? 

      Neuralink uses ultra-thin threads with electrodes that are implanted in the brain to transmit and receive electrical signals to and from a computer. 

      3. What progress has Neuralink made in its development? 

        Neuralink has conducted animal trials successfully, demonstrating the capability of subjects to interact with computers using their thoughts. 

        4. Is Neuralink safe? 

          Safety trials are ongoing. While initial tests show promise, comprehensive human trials are needed to establish safety and efficacy fully. 

        5. What ethical concerns does Neuralink raise? 

        The technology could raise issues related to privacy, consent, and the long-term effects on human cognition and society. 

        6. Will Neuralink make you smarter? 
        Neuralink’s primary goal is to enable people with paralysis to control devices with their thoughts, not to enhance intelligence. The technology focuses on restoring lost functions rather than boosting cognitive abilities. 
         

        7. How much will Neuralink cost? 
        Neuralink’s price isn’t official yet but estimates range from $10,500 for the implant to $40,000 including surgery and exams. 

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