Neuralink Corporation is a neurotechnology company that develops implantable brain–machine interfaces (BMIs). Co-founded by Elon Musk, Max Hodak and Paul Merolla, the company's headquarters is in the Pioneer Building in San Francisco sharing offices with OpenAI.[5] Neuralink was launched in 2016 and was first publicly reported in March 2017.[1][6]

Neuralink Corporation
TypePrivate
IndustryBrain-computer interface
Neuroprosthetics
FoundedJuly 2016; 6 years ago (2016-07)[1]
Founders
HeadquartersPioneer Building, San Francisco, California, U.S.[2]
Key people
Jared Birchall (CEO)[3]
OwnerElon Musk
Number of employees
c. 300[4] (2022)
Websiteneuralink.com

Coordinates: 37°45′44″N 122°24′53″W / 37.7623°N 122.4148°W / 37.7623; -122.4148

Since its founding, the company has hired several high-profile neuroscientists from various universities.[7] By July 2019, it had received $158 million in funding (of which $100 million was from Musk) and was employing a staff of 90 employees.[8] At that time, Neuralink announced that it was working on a "sewing machine-like" device capable of implanting very thin (4 to 6 μm in width[9]) threads into the brain, and demonstrated a system that read information from a lab rat via 1,500 electrodes. They had anticipated starting experiments with humans in 2020;[8] but have since moved that projection to 2022.[10]

Several neuroscientists and publications, including the MIT Technology Review, have criticized claims made by Musk about Neuralink and its technology.[11][12]

CompanyEdit

 
The Pioneer Building in San Francisco, housing the offices of Neuralink and OpenAI

HistoryEdit

Neuralink was co-founded in 2016 by Elon Musk, Max Hodak and Paul Merolla.[13][14][15] The group of initial hires consisted of experts in areas such as neuroscience, biochemistry and robotics.[5] The trademark "Neuralink" was purchased from its previous owners in January 2017.[13]

In April 2017, Neuralink announced that it was aiming to make devices to treat serious brain diseases in the short-term, with the eventual goal of human enhancement, sometimes called transhumanism.[16][5][17] Musk had said his interest in the idea partly stemmed from the science fiction concept of "neural lace" in the fictional universe in The Culture, a series of 10 novels by Iain M. Banks.[17][18]

Musk defined the neural lace as a "digital layer above the cortex" that would not necessarily imply extensive surgical insertion but ideally an implant through a vein or artery.[19] He said the long-term goal is to achieve "symbiosis with artificial intelligence",[20] which he perceives as an existential threat to humanity if it goes unchecked.[20][21] He believes the device will be "something analogous to a video game, like a saved game situation, where you are able to resume and upload your last state" and "address brain injuries or spinal injuries and make up for whatever lost capacity somebody has with a chip."[22]

As of 2020, Neuralink is headquartered in San Francisco's Mission District, sharing the Pioneer building with OpenAI, another company co-founded by Musk.[23][2] Jared Birchall, the head of Musk's family office, was listed as CEO, CFO and president of Neuralink in 2018.[24][23] As of September 2018, Musk was the majority owner of Neuralink but did not hold an executive position.[25]

By August 2020, only three of the eight founding scientists remained at the company, according to an article by Stat News which reported that Neuralink had seen "years of internal conflict in which rushed timelines have clashed with the slow and incremental pace of science."[26]

In April 2021, Neuralink demonstrated a monkey playing the game "Pong" using the Neuralink implant.[27] While similar technology has existed since 2002, when a research group first demonstrated a monkey moving a computer cursor with neural signals, scientists acknowledged the engineering progress in making the implant wireless and increasing the number of implanted electrodes.[28][29][30]

In May 2021, co-founder and president Max Hodak announced that he no longer works with the company.[31] As of January 2022, of the eight cofounders, only two remain at the company.[10]

Culture criticismEdit

A January 2022 article in Fortune highlighted criticism of Neuralink's corporate culture from anonymous former employees. They described a "culture of blame and fear" and one with vacillating priorities. Additionally, Musk allegedly undermined management by encouraging junior employees "to email issues and complaints to him directly."[10]

TechnologyEdit

In 2018, Gizmodo reported that Neuralink "remained highly secretive about its work", although public records showed that it had sought to open an animal testing facility in San Francisco; it subsequently started to carry out research at the University of California, Davis.[23] In 2019, during a live presentation at the California Academy of Sciences, the Neuralink team revealed to the public the technology of the first prototype they had been working on. It is a system that involves ultra-thin probes that will be inserted into the brain, a neurosurgical robot that will perform the operations and a high-density electronic system capable of processing information from neurons. It is based on technology developed at UCSF and UC Berkeley.[32]

ProbesEdit

The probes, composed mostly of polyimide, a biocompatible material, with a thin gold or platinum conductor, are inserted into the brain through an automated process performed by a surgical robot. Each probe consists of an area of wires that contains electrodes capable of locating electrical signals in the brain, and a sensory area where the wire interacts with an electronic system that allows amplification and acquisition of the brain signal. Each probe contains 48 or 96 wires, each of which contains 32 independent electrodes, making a system of up to 3072 electrodes per formation.[9][33]

RobotEdit

Neuralink says they have developed a robot capable of rapidly inserting many flexible probes into the brain, which may avoid the problems of tissue damage and longevity associated with larger and more rigid probes.[34][35][36] This robot has an insertion head with a 40 μm diameter needle made of tungsten-rhenium designed to attach to the insertion loops, made to transport and insert individual probes, and to penetrate the meninges and tissue cerebral. The robot is capable of inserting up to six wires (192 electrodes) per minute.[34]

ElectronicsEdit

 
Elon Musk discussing the Neuralink

Neuralink has developed an Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) to create a 1,536-channel recording system. This system consists of 256 amplifiers capable of being individually programmed ("analog pixels"), analog-to-digital converters within the chip ("ADCs") and a peripheral circuit control to serialize the digitized information obtained.[34] It aims to convert information obtained from neurons into an understandable binary code in order to achieve greater understanding of brain function and the ability to stimulate these neurons back. With the present technology, electrodes are still too big to record the firing of individual neurons, so they can record only the firing of a group of neurons; Neuralink representatives believe this issue might get mitigated algorithmically, but it is computationally expensive and does not produce exact results.[37]

In July 2020, according to Musk, Neuralink obtained a FDA breakthrough device designation which allows limited human testing under the FDA guidelines for medical devices.[38][39]

Animal testingEdit

Neuralink tests their devices by surgically implanting them in the brains of live monkeys, pigs and other animals.[40] Neuralink's methods have been criticized by groups such as PETA.[41]

From 2017 to 2020, Neuralink's experiments on monkeys were conducted in partnership with UC Davis. At the end of their partnership, UC Davis transferred seven monkeys to Neuralink. In 2022, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) alleged that Neuralink and UC Davis had mistreated several monkeys, subjecting them to psychological distress, extreme suffering, and chronic infections due to surgeries. Experiments conducted by Neuralink and UC Davis have involved at least 23 monkeys, and the PCRM believes that 15 of those monkeys died or were euthanized as a result of the experiments. Furthermore, the PCRM alleged that UC Davis withheld photographic and video evidence of the mistreatment.[42]

In February 2022, Neuralink said that monkeys died during testing, but they also said no animal abuse occurred.[43]

Musk previously stated that Neuralink implants would be introduced by injecting them through the jugular vein, and not by opening the cranium (which Neuralink currently requires).[44]

ReceptionEdit

Scientists have cited technical challenges for Neuralink. In 2017, a journalist at the IEEE Spectrum Magazine had asked for comments from five researchers that had been working on BCI implants, including Thomas Oxley that invented the Stentrode.[45] At a live demonstration in August 2020, Musk described their device as "a Fitbit in your skull". Several neuroscientists and publications criticized these claims.[11][12][46] MIT Technology Review accused the demonstration of having the main objective to "stir excitement", adding that "Neuralink has provided no evidence that it can (or has even tried to) treat depression, insomnia, or a dozen other diseases that Musk mentioned in a slide".[11] Andrew Jackson, professor of neural interfaces at Newcastle University, also commented on the presentation to the BBC. To Musk's statement that he found Neuralink's advancements to be "profound", Jackson responded, "I don't think there was anything revolutionary in the presentation."[47]

Thiago Arzua of the Medical College of Wisconsin argued that what Neuralink does is not novel and that ideas for a brain-machine interface is at least 50 years old.[48] He cited successful control of a robotic prosthetic arm by a man that gave him haptic feedback, which he used in 2016 to give President Obama a fist bump.[49] Arzua said that the 2020 Neuralink presentation "showed little more than a flashy new design for a BMI with more electrodes".[48]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b Winkler, Rolfe (March 27, 2017). "Elon Musk Launches Neuralink to Connect Brains With Computers". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on May 5, 2017. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Hao, Karen (February 17, 2020). "The messy, secretive reality behind OpenAI's bid to save the world". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved March 9, 2020.
  3. ^ "Elon Musk's Inner Circle Rocked by Fight Over His $230 Billion Fortune". Wall Street Journal. July 18, 2022. Archived from the original on July 18, 2022. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
  4. ^ Levy, Rachael (July 19, 2022). "Neuralink co-founder departs Musk-backed startup". Reuters.
  5. ^ a b c Masunaga, Samantha (April 21, 2017). "A quick guide to Elon Musk's new brain-implant company, Neuralink". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on May 5, 2017. Retrieved May 4, 2017.
  6. ^ Statt, Nick (March 27, 2017). "Elon Musk launches Neuralink, a venture to merge the human brain with AI". The Verge. Archived from the original on February 6, 2018. Retrieved September 6, 2017.
  7. ^ "Elon Musk's Brain Tech Startup Is Raising More Cash". May 11, 2019. Archived from the original on May 11, 2019. Retrieved May 12, 2019. The company has hired away several high-profile neuroscientists
  8. ^ a b Markoff, John (July 16, 2019). "Elon Musk's Company Takes Baby Steps to Wiring Brains to the Internet". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on July 17, 2019. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  9. ^ a b Elon Musk unveils Neuralink’s plans for brain-reading ‘threads’ and a robot to insert them. Archived July 17, 2019, at the Wayback Machine Elizabeth Lopatto, The Verge. 16 July 2019.
  10. ^ a b c "Inside Neuralink, Elon Musk's mysterious brain chip startup: A culture of blame, impossible deadlines, and a missing CEO". Fortune. Retrieved January 31, 2022.
  11. ^ a b c Regalado, Antonio (August 30, 2020). "Elon Musk's Neuralink is neuroscience theater". MIT Technology Review. Archived from the original on January 18, 2022. Retrieved September 3, 2020.
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  15. ^ "Neuralink co-founder departs Musk-backed startup -sources". Reuters. July 19, 2022. Retrieved July 19, 2022.
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  19. ^ Elon Musk thinks we will have to use AI this way to avoid a catastrophic future Archived February 13, 2019, at the Wayback Machine. Robert Ferris, CNBC News. 31 January 2017.
  20. ^ a b Elon Musk believes AI could turn humans into an endangered species like the mountain gorilla Archived December 4, 2018, at the Wayback Machine. Isobel Asher Hamilton, Business Insider. 26 November 2018.
  21. ^ Everything you need to know about Neuralink: Elon Musk’s brainy new venture Archived December 6, 2018, at the Wayback Machine. Tyler Lacoma, Digital Trends. 7 November 2017.
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  23. ^ a b c Conger, Kate. "Elon Musk's Neuralink Sought to Open an Animal Testing Facility in San Francisco". Gizmodo. Archived from the original on September 24, 2018. Retrieved October 11, 2018.
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  39. ^ Neuralink Progress Update, Summer 2020, Neuralink, 28 August 2020, accessed 4 October 2020.
  40. ^ Shead, Sam (February 1, 2021). "Elon Musk says his start-up Neuralink has wired up a monkey to play video games using its mind". CNBC. Retrieved February 1, 2021.
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  44. ^ D'Onfro, Jillian. "Elon Musk thinks we need brain-computers to avoid becoming 'house cats' to artificial intelligence". Business Insider. Retrieved May 22, 2022.
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  47. ^ "Is Elon Musk over-hyping his brain-hacking Neuralink tech?". BBC News. September 1, 2020. Retrieved July 15, 2021.
  48. ^ a b Arzua, Thiago (August 29, 2020). "Despite a flashy design, Elon Musk's Neuralink has little substance". Massive Science. Retrieved February 13, 2022.
  49. ^ Group, SAE Media. "What a Feeling: A Look Back at a High-Tech Presidential Handshake". www.techbriefs.com. Retrieved May 22, 2022.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

  • Video on YouTube of Neuralink's presentation on July 16, 2019