- Elon Musk hosted a live demo from his company Neuralink on August 28 that showed a pig named Gertrude with a computer chip transmitting signals from her brain.
- The chip is proof of concept for Neuralink’s stated goal of bringing its technology to humans, to treat neurological conditions and, according to Musk, will someday merge human consciousness with computers.
- Neuroscientist Prof. Andrew Jackson told Business Insider that even though the technology falls far short of Neuralink’s mission status, it could be hugely beneficial to the world of animal testing, which could in turn lead to medical breakthroughs. .
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In his quest to fuse human consciousness with artificial intelligence, Elon Musk could vastly improve the world of animal testing.
In addition to his best known Tesla and SpaceX ventures, Elon Musk owns a company called Neuralink. Founded in 201
Short-term applications for putting these chips in people’s brains would be the study and treatment of neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. Theoretically, they could also restore the movement of paralyzed patients via robotic prostheses wirelessly connected to the brain chip.
But Musk is not satisfied with talking about the short term. During a Neuralink demonstration in August, he claimed the device would allow people to do things like “save and reproduce memories” or summon their car telepathically.
On August 28, Musk live-streamed a demo of a working Neuralink device implanted in the brain of a pig named Gertrude.
The device was embedded in Gertrude’s skull, with wires that fan out in her brain with electrodes that could detect, record and theoretically even stimulate brain activity.
To sift through Musk’s solid science and louder claims, Business Insider spoke with neuroscientist Professor Andrew Jackson of Newcastle University, who has worked with inserting neural interfaces into animals – brain chips like the ones Neuralink wants. to achieve.
Jackson said he was impressed with the kit Neuralink showed.
“One of the things that I think is important is that they are increasing the number of channels that can be registered,” he told Business Insider.
Until recently, the best commercially available product anyone doing wireless animal testing could get their hands on recorded about 100 channels – Neuralink’s device would raise that number to 1,000.
Jackson said the fact that the Neuralink device is contained in a small package that can fit into the skull is also a big improvement. “This is obviously very important in regards to humans, but I think it could also be very useful for people who work with animals right now,” he said.
At present, many neural implants on animal test subjects involve wires sticking out of the skin, and a completely wireless link covered by the skin would reduce the risk of infection, Jackson said.
“Even if the technology does nothing more than we are able to do at the moment – in terms of number of channels or otherwise – from one aspect of animal welfare only, I think if you can experiment with something that doesn’t involve wires. that pass through the skin, this will improve animal welfare, “he said.
“In [Neuralink’s] credit have clearly paid attention to the ethics of animal testing, “Jackson said added.” I thought it was good that at least they recognized that it was important that these animals were well looked after, “he said.
For the sake of any future human who might receive a Neuralink in the brain, the well-being of laboratory animals such as Gertrude is vital, as tests need to be conducted over several years to ensure that the device does not become harmful at any stage and to ensure that works forever.
“Everything you put into your body starts to get covered in scar tissue. If you’re trying to listen to these little signals from brain cells closely, as your device is encapsulated by scar tissue, it becomes increasingly difficult to receive those signals. This process can take from days with some types of electrodes to years, “Jackson said.
“The most common age to get a spinal cord injury is 18 […] so live with one condition for five decades. So, for these things to be really useful, the lifespan has to be measured in decades and not months, “he added.
During the demonstration, Musk said that Gertrude had had Neuralink in her brain for two months.
In action, the device appeared to transmit information as Gertrude used her nose to sniff and, when put on a treadmill, was able to accurately predict the positioning of her legs as she trotted.
For neuroscientists like Jackson, this was nothing new. “This is something that has been demonstrated many times before, both for walking, leg movements, and even upper limb movements in monkeys,” he said.
Jackson was also more skeptical of Musk’s claims that technology could someday be used to enhance human cognition by merging it with AI.
“I don’t mean that this won’t happen, but I think the underlying neuroscience is much more unstable. We understand a lot less about how those processes work in the brain, and just because you can predict the position of the pig’s leg when it’s walking on a treadmill,” that doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be able to read thoughts, “he said.
Despite Musk’s outlandish claims of merging human and computer consciousness, Jackson is eager to see Neuralink made available to animal researchers.
“I hope they take this approach and try to make this technology the most widely available in the world of animal research along with what they are trying to do, which is to get approval for human use,” he said.
In turn, better animal testing would mean better research on humans. “
I think this would be extremely beneficial for the field […] certainly this technology will have applications in neuroscientific research and any new technology is good and will advance that research. And that research could lead to improvements in the way we treat Parkinson’s disease [for example] even though the technology itself is never part of the treatment, “Jackson said.