Neuralink, one of Elon Musk’s many technology companies, has just taken a giant leap forward. In a new blog post and video, we see a macaque with Neuralink implants playing a game of Pong using only its mind ̵
Neuralink’s fascinating video describes two different parts of the process. First, how Neuralink used the fully implanted 1024-electrode neural recording and data transmission device to record the macaque’s baseline brain activity (called Pager). To do this, researchers got Pager to play a simple computer game in which it would use a joystick controller to move a point to a series of marked squares.
Next, the researchers take the data recorded from many neurons and use a decoder algorithm to estimate Pager’s intended hand movements in real time. While Pager plays, the researchers wirelessly stream the data as it records – including the firing rates of thousands of neurons – and calibrate the decoder by modeling the relationship between the neural patterns seen in the stream and the associated joystick movements.
Eventually, the researchers set up another round of the game, but disconnect the joystick. Then they put on a game of Pong and completely remove the controller. Pager then proceeds to control the paddle using only his wits using the Neuralink hardware.
While Elon Musk probably doesn’t intend to build an army of video game-playing macaques (at least not that we know, but again, anything is possible), the implications of Neuralink are huge. With this technology, Neuralink hopes to help people with paralysis and other neurological conditions gain direct neural control over a computer cursor and communicate with smartphones.
In the end, Musk also tweeted that he thinks “later versions will be able to shunt signals from Neuralinks in the brain to Neuralinks in clusters of motor / sensory neurons in the body, allowing for example paraplegics to walk again.” The claim is certainly ambitious and wonderful, but there are also more sinister possibilities for such a technology. More research and testing are needed, as well as frankly ethical considerations, before it should be able to move forward.