Elon Musk has unveiled a pig named Gertrude with a coin-sized computer chip in his brain to demonstrate his ambitious plans to create a functioning brain-machine interface.
“It’s kind of like a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires,” the billionaire entrepreneur said on a webcast.
His start-up Neuralink applied to start human trials last year.
The interface could allow people with neurological disorders to control phones or computers with their minds.
Mr Musk argues that such chips could potentially be used to help cure conditions such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord injuries.
But the long-term ambition is to usher in an era of what Musk calls “superhuman cognition,” in part to combat artificial intelligence so powerful he says it could destroy the human race.
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Gertrude was one of three pen pigs to take part in the demo of Friday’s webcast. It took a while to get there, but when she ate and sniffed straw, the activity appeared on a graph plotting her neural activity. She then ignored all the attention around her.
The processor in his brain sends out wireless signals, indicating neural activity in his muzzle while foraging.
Mr Musk said the original Neuralink device, revealed just over a year ago, has been simplified and made smaller.
“It actually fits very well into your skull. It could be under your hair and you wouldn’t know it.
Founded in 2017, Neuralink has worked hard to recruit scientists, something Musk was still advertising for on Twitter last month and which he said was the goal of Friday’s demo.
The device the company is developing consists of a tiny probe containing more than 3,000 electrodes attached to flexible wires thinner than a human hair, which can monitor the activity of 1,000 brain neurons.
Before the webcast, Ari Benjamin, of the Kording Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, told BBC News that the real stumbling block in technology may be the sheer complexity of the human brain.
“Once they have the recordings, Neuralink will have to decode them and one day will hit the barrier that is our basic lack of understanding of how the brain works, no matter how many neurons they are recording from.
“Decoding goals and plans of movement is difficult when you don’t understand the neural code in which these things are communicated. ”
Mr. Musk’s SpaceX and Tesla companies have captured the public imagination with their attempts to advance spaceflight and electric vehicles, respectively.
But both also demonstrate the entrepreneur’s habit of making bold statements about projects that end up taking much longer than expected.