Elon Musk gave his long-awaited update to the Neuralink project yesterday. This short video sums it up.
But the central feature is still Neuralink's custom chip designed to identify and transmit patterns of neural activity. Individual neurons, which the electrodes will be listening in on, communicate by firing off a series of what are called "spikes"—short bursts of electrical activity that stand out from the background noise. Musk said that Neuralink's chip comes programmed with a set of spike templates that match the usual range of behaviors seen in actual neurons. The chip will take the analog electrical activity recorded by the electrodes, convert it to digital data, identify any spikes of activity, and then find the template spike that matches the activity best.
That allows it to transmit a code that identifies the template, making for a huge compression compared to the complicated, noisy neural activity. It's absolutely necessary for a device that will be communicating via a low-bandwidth interface like Bluetooth.
Neuralink had gotten a Breakthrough Device designation from the Food and Drug Agency, which handles medical-implant approval. That enables the company to engage in an ongoing dialog with the FDA, which will help it identify the sorts of data it will need to gather in order if Neuralink wants to make sure approval is ultimately granted.
Musk has stated that his inspiration for Neuralink comes from science fiction, specifically the idea of a neural lace from Iain M. Banks 2010 story Surface Detail:
“The distributed device within your brain and central nervous system, which I have, annoyingly, only recently become aware of, will have recorded its own memories of this encounter and would be able to transmit them to your own biological brain. I strongly suspect it has already transmitted our conversation so far… else where. Perhaps to the drone you arrived with and the ship you arrived on. That is very unusual. Unique, even. Also, most irritating.”
“What are you talking about? Do you mean a neural lace?”
An earlier version of the basic idea is the communications implant from the 1981 novel Oath of Fealty, by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven.
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