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Recently, you may have read that Elon Musk’s neurotechnology company Neuralink is very close to testing brain implants on humans. For many years researchers have been working on similar technologies that will improve the lives of humans through AI. The immediate target market for Neuralink is paralyzed people. Neuralink is developing a robot to perform the implant operation of a interface in the brain with a high level of precision.  The robot inserts fine threads less than the size of a hair into the brain. Another piece of hardware is a Bluetooth receiver that fits behind the user’s ear and communicates with a phone. Sensors read the electrical activity in the brain. Then the activity is processed into code that allows a paralyzed person to effortlessly control a robotic limb by thinking of the controls. “This is going to sound pretty weird, but ultimately we will achieve symbiosis with artificial intelligence,” Musk said in a press conference.

The motor and sensory functions are controlled by activity produced in the brain. Neurons send commands to the different areas of our body. Elon Musk’s Neuralink team wants to develop an interface that interprets those commands and controls them. This interface is what Neuralink calls neural lace and the goal is to directly link you to someone else’s thoughts. Eventually as this technology progresses, these thoughts could be assembled and shared over the internet. The shared collection of thoughts driven by neurons would be used for innovating new technologies and creative pursuits. Right now Neuralink is applying the technology to medical applications, with a concentration on epilepsy and Alzheimer’s patients. The implementation of brain chips is definitely part of the future of treatment for Alzheimer’s and epilepsy conditions.

Beyond treatment for specific illnesses, there is room for skepticism about Neuralink’s future plans. For a medical patient who is suffering, choosing the possibilities associated with this technology might be well worth it and life changing. Most of the general population is going to steer away from a technology that relies on drilling holes into the head. The invasiveness of the procedure combined with significant costs will deter most from considering this surgery. This calls into the question the commercial viability of the product and we will most likely see this as a niche product with a continued focus on the medical market segment. However, if Neuralink is focusing on the long term and is willing to look away from profitability during the early years, then release to the consumer market may come earlier than expected.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is also funding research in similar applications for use by the military. The agency will be joined by Neuralink in developing the technologies for this AI interface. Because DARPA would like to apply the interface as temporary equipment a soldier uses, they are seeking non-surgical applications that reside outside of the head. DARPA states the non-surgical methods include the use of ultrasound to read brain signals to an implant that communicates with hardware on the equipment.

These are the practical applications of brain implant technology in the near future. A look at Elon Musk’s plan reveals a huge market that appears very close to revolutionizing industry and defense. However, the rest of us will probably have to wait a little longer before we get to become a cyborg.

Last modified on Tuesday, 22 October 2019
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Craig Gehrig

Craig Gehrig is a systems administrator with Rainbow Resource Center, an online retailer of educational materials in Peoria, IL. He is also the founder of Vanova IT Consulting, a provider of IT solutions to small businesses in the agriculture, manufacturing, and retail industries. When he is not staring at a screen or crawling around on the floor, he can be found spending time with his wife Vanessa and their two children- Sasha and Craig.

Website: https://twitter.com/CraigGehrig

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