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Neuralink in depression treatment

Neuralink in depression treatment


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In this article there is a statement that

Neuralink can help people with Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, and depression by promptly sending electric pulses into the areas responsible for their specific symptoms.

Could you refer me to the detailed information about depression treatment via Neuralink?


Linking the brain with computers will take time

Some basic devices make use of the symbiosis between brains and machines. There are, for example, machines that record brain activity, such as electroencephalograms (EEG). Likewise, the company DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has already created a surgical microchip that allows paralyzed people to pilot simulated planes.

Neuralink means going one step further by continuously exchanging information between a computer and the brain. It’s about allowing a quadriplegic person to walk again and recover the functions of their body. Also, a person with depression could receive other types of mental stimuli to progressively improve their state of mind.

Something like this will take time. Furthermore, Elon Musk informed the world that his company would start testing Neuralink on humans in 2020. However, this won’t be possible for a while because the interface implant still needs improvement. The goal is to further optimize the robot that’ll perform these interventions so they can do it quickly, accurately, and under local anesthesia. The intervention would last less than an hour and the device wouldn’t be visible. In other words, a person wouldn’t feel anything.


Neuralink: Brain hacking is exceptionally hard, no matter what Elon Musk says

Elon Musk at Neuralink presentation with robot. Credit: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr, CC BY-SA

If thoughts, feelings and other mental activities are nothing more than electrochemical signals flowing around a vast network of brain cells, will connecting these signals with digital electronics allow us to enhance the abilities of our brains?

That's what tech entrepreneur Elon Musk suggested in a recent presentation of the Neuralink device, an innovative brain-machine interface implanted in a pig called Gertrude. But how feasible is his vision? When I raised some brief reservations about the science, Musk dismissed them in a tweet saying: "It is unfortunately common for many in academia to overweight the value of ideas and underweight bringing them to fruition. The idea of going to the moon is trivial, but going to the moon is hard."

Brain-machine interfaces use electrodes to translate neuronal information into commands capable of controlling external systems such as a computer or robotic arm. I understand the work involved in building one. In 2005, I helped develop Neurochips, which recorded brain signals, known as action potentials, from single cells for days at a time and could even send electrical pulses back into the skull of an animal. We were using them to create artificial connections between brain areas and produce lasting changes in brain networks.

Neuroscientists have, in fact, been listening to brain cells in awake animals since the 1950s. At the turn of the 21st century, brain signals from monkeys were used to control an artificial arm. And in 2006, the BrainGate team began implanting arrays of 100 electrodes in the brains of paralyzed people, enabling basic control of computer cursors and assistive devices.

Can we hack the brain? Credit: Aleksandra Sova/Shutterstock

I say this not to diminish the progress made by the Neuralink team. They have built a device to relay signals wirelessly from 1,024 electrodes implanted into Gertrude's brain by a sophisticated robot. The team is making rapid progress towards a human trial, and I believe their work could improve the performance of brain-controlled devices for people living with disabilities.

But Musk has more ambitious goals, hoping to read and write thoughts and memories, enable telepathic communication and ultimately merge human and artificial intelligence (AI). This is certainly not "trivial," and I don't think the barriers can be overcome by technology alone.

Today, most brain-machine interfaces use an approach called "biomimetic" decoding. First, brain activity is recorded while the user imagines various actions such as moving their arm left or right. Once we know which brain cells prefer different directions, we can "decode" subsequent movements by tallying their action potentials like votes.

This approach works adequately for simple movements, but can it ever generalize to more complex mental processes? Even if Neuralink could sample enough of the 100 billion cells in my brain, how many different thoughts would I first have to think to calibrate a useful mind-reading device, and how long would that take? Does my brain activity even sound the same each time I think the same thought? And when I think of, say, going to the Moon, does my brain sound anything like Musk's?

Some researchers hope that AI can sidestep these problems, in the same way it has helped computers to understand speech. Perhaps given enough data, AI could learn to understand the signals from anyone's brain. However, unlike thoughts, language evolved for communication with others, so different speakers share common rules such as grammar and syntax.

While the large-scale anatomy of different brains is similar, at the level of individual brain cells, we are all unique. Recently, neuroscientists have started exploring intermediate scales, searching for structure in the activity patterns of large groups of cells. Perhaps, in future, we will uncover a set of universal rules for thought processes that will simplify the task of mind reading. But the state of our current understanding offers no guarantees.

Alternatively, we might exploit the brain's own intelligence. Perhaps we should think of brain-machine interfaces as tools that we have to master, like learning to drive a car. When people are shown a real-time display of the signal from individual cells in their own brain, they can often learn to increase or decrease that activity through a process called neurofeedback.

Maybe when using the Neuralink, people might be able to learn how to activate their brain cells in the right way to control the interface. However, recent research suggests that the brain may not be as flexible as we once thought and, so far, neurofeedback subjects struggle to produce complex patterns of brain activity that differ from those occurring naturally.

When it comes to influencing, rather than reading, the brain, the challenges are greater still. Electrical stimulation activates many cells around each electrode, as was nicely shown in the Neuralink presentation. But cells with different roles are mixed together, so it is hard to produce a meaningful experience. Stimulating visual areas of the brain may allow blind people to perceive flashes of light, but we are still far from reproducing even simple visual scenes. Optogenetics, which uses light to activate genetically modified brain cells, can be more selective but has yet to be attempted in the human brain.

Whether or not Musk can – or should – achieve his ultimate aims, the resources that he and other tech entrepreneurs are investing in brain-machine interfaces are sure to advance our scientific understanding. I hope that Musk shares his wireless implant with the many scientists who are also trying to unravel the mysteries of the brain.

That said, decades of research have shown that the brain does not yield its secrets easily and is likely to resist our attempts at mind hacking for some decades yet.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Neuralink shouldn’t solve Anxiety and Depression disorders

Neuralink aims to treat some of the most severe and damaging neurological diseases on Earth. In terms of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and epilepsy, a Neuralink device would be a great way to prevent these diseases from ruining everyday life for those who have been affected by them. With that being said, Neuralink needs not to treat anxiety and depression disorders, because those illnesses require human reaction and vulnerability to treat. Defeating anxiety and depression should be done without the help of a complete fix, and it is crucial not to look past the importance of humans being able to feel these two sensations.

This is something I feel very strongly about for several reasons.

Before I dive into those reasons, I want to explain why I feel qualified enough to take a stance that I think many supporters of Neuralink will disagree with.

I have dealt with clinical anxiety and severe depression for my entire life. I was clinically diagnosed in 2009 at the age of 14 with both of these disorders, and I would estimate that it took me around 11 and a half years of diligence on my part to begin living a normal life. My anxiety and depression disorders hindered me from doing a lot of things in my life: playing certain sports, moving away for college (on multiple occasions), keeping past jobs, committing to relationships, etc. It has affected me in the worst way for so many years, and I would never want anyone, even my worst enemy, to experience the things that I felt on a daily basis when I was under the control of these two diseases.

However, I don’t think that everyone should completely rid themselves of anxiety and depression. Why? Because they are two emotions, as humans, we need to have.

Anxiety, while painful and difficult to confront head-on, is necessary for some reasons. The first being the obvious, anxiety is an excellent way to sense when danger is near, and it is a crucial part of our fight or flight response. It can warn someone when there is an issue with what is going on near them and can be life-saving in certain circumstances.

Anxiety also is an opportunity to grow as a human being. Facing and confronting anxious thoughts is one of the best ways to test resilience and learn about what we are made of. Anxiety teaches us a lot about ourselves, and while frightening, facing it directly is one of the best ways to show that we can push through certain circumstances that we aren’t confident about.

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Depression, while more severe in my own experiences, also has its advantages. Without darkness, we wouldn’t know what light is. Without depression, we wouldn’t know about happiness. There are points where humans need to face adversity and challenging circumstances to feel the great things about life.

Now, the way I treated my anxiety and depression disorders was a clinically-focused approach. I regularly attended therapy sessions, took medication, and spoke to doctors as often as I could. While I wholeheartedly believe everyone should talk to a therapist at least three times a year, I disagree with taking medications. In my experience, they are a masking agent for anxiety and depression disorders, especially. They caused me more problems after I started taking them, and the side effects needed treatment on their own.

I believe the best way to treat disorders like anxiety and depression is solely up to the person who is dealing with them. When I started to make real progress with my issues, I began using Exposure Therapy to treat my problems. I did as many things as I could that scared me. This included long drives by myself, roller coasters, and doing more things independently. When I started doing these things, I had stopped taking medication, and my self-diligence started to solve the problems I was facing.

I am in no way condoning that medication is not a wrong way to initially treat these illnesses. However, I do not believe that the healthy dose of side effects that come as a result of taking these medications is helpful to anyone who is being treated for either disorder.

This is where my issue with Neuralink comes in.

I believe that Neuralink intends to completely remove these sensations from a person’s emotions, which I feel can be dangerous to the future. Taking away emotions from humans can be detrimental to the way people communicate with each other and respond to specific events. As hazardous and as stressful as dealing with any mental illness is, solving them requires a long and tiring fight. It is not easy, but anything in life that is worth doing rarely is.

I believe very strongly that removing emotions from humans is one of the most dangerous things that anyone could do. At what point will devices like Neuralink completely take over the human brain? When will emotions begin to disappear from people? Could it lead to a decreased amount of social interaction? How would that make us any different than robots?

It is dangerous, in my opinion, to remove core emotional responses from a human. Nobody wants to be depressed, and nobody wants to be anxious. But treating these diseases is done by finding out who we are as people. It requires us to go out of our comfort zones and grow, not put a chip in our heads or a pill in our throats that eliminates the possibility of feeling certain sensations.

There comes the point where our humanness needs to be preserved. The invention of Smartphones has taken away a lot of opportunities for face-to-face interaction, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that anxiety and depression disorders are caused by these devices, especially through social media use.

I am interested to hear other points on this matter because I know some people have different experiences with anxiety and depression than me. One thing I’ve always loved is hearing other people’s stories about how their anxiety or depression changed their lives. It usually starts with a valley and turns into a peak. While this can differ from case to case, two people rarely have identical stories when talking about their experiences. They also, frequently, are different from one case to the next because of how we obtained anxiety or depression. Some get it through abuse, and some get it from other forms of trauma when their brain is developing.

Neuralink is yet another brilliant idea from Elon Musk. It will hopefully change the way certain neurological diseases are treated and can provide some insight into what causes these medical conditions. However, there has to be boundaries and taking emotions and psychological responses away, in my opinion, is not the right thing to do. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Darknessꃊnnot drive out darkness only light can do that.”

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This is the 17th episode of the podcast Deep Tech: From Lab to Market’ where Founders and Investors share how ‘deep tech’ innovation can go from lab to market. It is available on Apple Podcast and other platforms,

It is hosted by Benjamin Joffe, Partner at SOSV, a global early stage fund focused on deep tech. SOSV runs multiple accelerator programs including HAX (intelligent hardware) and IndieBio (life sciences). To hear about new episodes, sign up to the newsletter or follow us on twitter at @LabToMarket.

Telemedicine and Mental health are hot topics, especially in those times of economic uncertainty and forced isolation.

In this episode, Daniel Månsson, clinical psychologist and CEO of Flow Neuroscience (a SOSV portfolio company), explains how they are bringing the first medication-free depression treatment to the home of patients.

The origins of Flow Neuroscience

The first at-home medication-free device to treat depression.

The impact of Covid-19 on mental health.

The technology spectrum of mental health, from wellness apps to invasive brain stimulation.

The brain stimulation alphabet soup: ECS, TMS, tDCS and DBS.

What Apple, Google, but also Amazon and Elon Musk’s Neuralink are doing.

Other startups in mental health diagnostics or treatment for anxiety, stress, depression and more.

The current push for remote patient monitoring and treatment.

The role of regulators to ensure both a positive effect of treatments and the safety of patients.

What’s ahead for Flow and their current expansion plans.

For other resources covering digital health, check out SOSV’s videos on our YouTube channel.

Companies

Flow Neuroscience: Medication-free at-home depression treatment.

Amazon Halo: Bracelet tracking body composition, tone of voice analysis, sleep & activity tracking, and more.

Apple Watch Series 6: Includes Blood Oxygen, ECG, High/low/irregular heart rate notifications. Apple also hired dozens of doctors in late 2018 (source: CNBC).

Google Health and its CEO, Dr. David Feinberg. DeepMind Health, Verily (life sciences arm of Alphabet) and its Project Baseline.

Neuralink: Elon Musk’s company focused on brain-machine interfaces.

Calm: Meditation and sleep app. Raised $143M.

Headspace: Digital health platform that provides guided meditation sessions and mindfulness training. Raised $215.9M.

Ellispis Health: AI for behavioral health, starting with depression and anxiety. Raised $10M.

Feel (SOSV): Emotions sensing bracelet for mental health. Raised $6.3M.

Lief Therapeutics (SOSV): Training wearable to manage stress.

Other References

ECT: electroconvulsive therapy (‘shock therapy’). ECT was invented in Italy in the late 1930s. Psychiatrists had already discovered that inducing seizures could relieve symptoms of mental illness (Source: Psychology Today). ECT remains the single most effective therapy for treatment-resistant cases of depression and some cases of bipolar affective disorder and schizophrenia. Today, it is a widely accepted treatment for serious mental disorders and is taught and practiced at hospitals throughout the world. It is estimated that one million people receive ECT annually. (Source: Psychology Today).

TMS: Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression. TMS is typically used when other depression treatments haven’t been effective. Source: Mayo Clinic.

tDCS: transCranial Direct Current Stimulation. tDCS is currently the only brain stimulation technique that doesn’t require a physician prescription, and can be used in the privacy of one’s own home. Due to the simplicity of the technology, tDCS can be incredibly affordable. While the FDA has not yet approved tDCS for medical use, tDCS devices have been publicly available as experimental kits for nearly a decade.

DBS: — Deep Brain Stimulation. Deep brain stimulation involves implanting electrodes within certain areas of your brain. These electrodes produce electrical impulses that regulate abnormal impulses. Source: Mayo Clinic.

DSM-5: Fifth update of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Describes all different diagnosis in the mental health field.


What the scientists are saying

It should, at this stage, be noted that research on BMIs (brain-machine Interfaces) dates back to the 1970s. Early demonstrations involved patients with external electrodes moving an on-screen cursor. More recently, BMIs have been deployed by researchers to actuate the movement of mechanical arms, small vehicles and even wheelchairs.

With respect to its reception from the neuroscience community, Neurolink has, so far, received mixed reviews.

The company’s major breakthrough appears to relate to the number of electrodes engaged (10x more than any other device) allowing for unprecedented levels of data and throughput.

According to University of Toronto neuroscience research fellow Graeme Moffat, Neuralink's hardware is "order of magnitude leaps" beyond any competitor in relation to size, portability, power consumption and wireless capabilities.

Ralph Adolphs, Bren Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Biology at California Institute of Technology described Neuralink's announcement as "tremendously exciting" and "a huge technical achievement."

Neuralink has also innovated in the development of a surgical robot to implement the insertion of tiny wires comprising the width of a human hair. The long-term aim is for the surgery to be carried out as a non-invasive day procedure, much like LASIK eye surgery is undertaken today.

Some scientists have poured scorn on Neuralink’s theoretical underpinning, particularly in relation to emulating higher-level brain functions, such as recording thoughts or memories.

According to Loren Frank, a neuroscientist at UCSF and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the simplistic conflation of thoughts and memories with the electrical emissions that occur alongside them, represents “a failure of knowledge of biology.”

After all, a consistent theory of human consciousness is not yet within the domain of scientific consensus.

Andrew Jackson, Professor of Neural Interfaces at Newcastle University, summarized Musk’s presentation and Neuralink’s progress to date as “solid engineering but mediocre neuroscience.”

Nevertheless, those interested in Neuralink for its medical applications should not be disheartened.

Mediating motor functions, though replete with significant challenges, is certainly not as tough an ask as deciphering thoughts and memories.

It is the former that people with disabilities will be most interested in and Steven Chase of Carnegie Mellon’s Neuroscience Institute confirmed, “The biggest thing these patients want is independence this technology has the potential to offer them that.”


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Elon Musk, “Dogefather” and “Meme Lord destroyer of shorts,” happens to be focusing a significant part of his time to develop an integrated brain-machine interface (BMI). Neuralink is building a fully integrated chip (“the Link”) implanted in the brain that processes, stimulates, and transmits neural signals.

The Origin

Neuralink wasn’t always from Musk. The trademark “NeuraLink” was first registered in 2015 by Pedram Mohseni (Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering) and Randolph Nudo (Ph.D. in Psychology). Initially, they focused on building a solution to compensate for damaged parts of the brain. In 2017, they agreed to sell the company’s name for tens of thousands of dollars. Later to find the anonymous buyer was the now second richest man on the planet (Earth).

Musk’s vision on Neuralink goes beyond compensating brain damage. The short-term goal is computer control for people with spinal cord injuries. However, long-term goals are (but not limited to): restore brain functionality, memory loss, dementia, anxiety, addictions, depression, restoration of senses, and basically symbiosis of the human and machine intelligence.

Elon Musk @elonmusk

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How Does It Work

First of all, if you haven’t watched Pager, the macaque monkey with the Link playing MindPong, go ahead and watch it: Pager Mind-Pong.

Neuralink @neuralink

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The Link is implanted in the patient's brain through a single 23mm skull opening, and small flexible threads with thousand of electrodes are inserted across multiple regions of the brain. The brain neurons are connected through axon-dendrite synapses and communicate through electric signals called action potentials. The Link identifies spikes of the neuronal action potentials, and these signals are processed in real-time and sent wirelessly.

We split up the applications of the Link into three segments:

Sensory function

Motor function

Processing & Storage of information

1) Sensory Function

The sensory function is integrated at all levels of the nervous system and includes all sensations that we can experience: pain, touch, sight, and sound. Not all of the sensory functions are entirely a function of the brain for example, the process to differentiate the light and color begins in the retina itself on the rods and cones receptors of the eyes. The signals then converge on the optic nerve leading to the cortex. The visual cortex is only responsible for the visual acuity and analysis of position, form, motion, and color detail. Similarly, the brain's auditory cortex discriminates the tonal and sequential sound patterns for the sense of hearing. This could mean that possibly, the stimulation of the brain’s cortex may be able to account for some of the sensory injuries and, to some degree, the restoration of senses [1].

The other part of the sensory function is the person’s sense of well-being: happiness, contentment, good appetite, sex drive, and physicomotor balance. This is related to the limbic areas of the brain, specifically the hypothalamus that receives large numbers of nerve endings from serotonin neurons. It is believed that the diminished activity of serotonin-secreting neurons might cause depression that is why some drugs that block the secretion of serotonin frequently cause depression. There is evidence that excitation of these neurons or those related to them can directly or indirectly increase serotonin production [1].

Potential treatment for: restoration of senses, dementia, anxiety, epilepsy, addiction, & depression.

2) Motor Function

The sensory information sometimes ends in motor responses, from simple muscle reflexes to complex motor responses. The abnormal function of the brain circuits may cause difficulties in executing specific patterns of movements. For instance, a lesion of the “substantia nigra”, a basal ganglia structure in the midbrain, leads to rigidity, paralysis, and tremors known as Parkinson’s disease. While the administration of some drugs has helped improve many of the symptoms, targeting the feedback circuit of the basal ganglia has shown surprisingly good results. This is achieved by inhibiting some of the signals from the basal ganglia to the cortex through deep brain stimulation (DBS) or by literally surgical lesions [1].

Identification of the feedback circuitry between the basal ganglia and the cortex and other neural pathways may be possible with the Link, offering relief from motor disorders and even paraplegics the opportunity to walk again.

Potential treatment for: Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, & people with paraplegia.

3) Processing & Storage of Information

Millions of bits of information are processed from the different sensory nerves and sensory organs and transmitted to motor responses each minute. However, a great part of this transmission of information is stored for use in the thinking process. The storage of information, or memory, occurs in the cortex. It is the ability of the neurons to “facilitate” the pass of signals through the same sequence of synapses after large numbers of repetitions.

Even when the sensory input is not excited, one can perceive experiencing the original sensations, although these are only memories. Neuralink has shown the computer control with Pager by processing the signals in the motor cortex of the macaque monkey’s brain, as they imagine moving the joystick is enough to allow them to control a cursor on a screen.

The hippocampus has been suggested that causes the translation of short-term memory into long-term memory. The hippocampus transmits some signals that seem to make the mind rehearse over and over the new information until permanent storage takes place. One consistent finding in memory impairment is the loss of neurons in the limbic area of the hippocampus. Stimulation of these neurons and inhibition of Amyloid peptides appear to attenuate memory loss [1].

Potential treatment for: Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, & memory loss.

Potential applications: control of computers & mobile devices, and the “App Store” for the brain.

Market Opportunity

Neuralink is best positioned to capture different segments in this nascent space:

The neurosurgical robot for the implantation of the Link is just as impressive as the Link itself. Developing a robot so precise, practical, and especially fully automatic, not operated by a neurosurgeon to scale to a large number of people, can revolutionize surgeries in general and help in a variety of complex procedures such as tumor removal or biopsy sampling.

The Link and the symbiosis of human and machine intelligence.

Understanding the brain and mind. We know very little about how the brain works and the precise mechanisms by which the synapses occur.

Let’s have a look at some numbers:

The number of people with any neurological disorder in 2017 rose 970 million [2], for instance: anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, schizophrenia and alcohol- and drug-use disorders. That’s 13% of the global population.

The goal is that the Link surgery gets pretty close to LASIK in a few years. LASIK surgery or laser vision correction is a type of refractive surgery for the correction of myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism—each procedure taking only about five minutes. In 2015, 604,000 surgeries were performed, and on average, the surgery cost in 2020 was $2,246 per eye [3]. That’s around $1.4 billion a year in revenue, and such refractive eye errors represent a 2% share of the global population.

The neurosurgical robot can be automated, inserting up to 192 electrodes per minute and allowing the surgeon to retain full control. In 2019, the robot demonstrated to be very precise with an 87% insertion success rate and 45 minutes average insertion time, producing an efficient and scalable approach.

The current gold standard for brain-activity recordings is the Blackrock NeuroPort™ System [4]. This 510(k) cleared Class II device [5] operates with up to 256 electrodes in what is so-called the “Utah Array.” Dr. Andrew Schwartz (Ph.D. in Neurobiology) and the University of Pittsburgh have been working for years in a brain-interface approach with the NeuroPort. Watch the presentation of his incredible work at Living Machines 2014, Milan: Dr. Schwartz’s Talk. Here you can get a sense of some of the successes and promising results of what 256 channels can bring. The Link operates with 1024 electrodes (four times the current devices’ channels) and improves the usability with wireless transmission [6].

Elon Musk and Neuralink have drawn huge attention. We’ve been tracking poll results in Twitter of the form “Would you get a Link?” that mention Neuralink since 2019, and the acceptance numbers have been very positive. See for yourself:

It added up to 5892 responses: 52% would get a Link, 42% won’t, and 5% don’t know yet. Definitely still very early, but people like Neuralink, and a great part want the Link. Assuming adoption of

16% in the first 5 years of solely the neurological disorders market (970 million) would put the Link on 155 million people or a

2% share of the global population. Perhaps if Neuralink executes exceptionally well, they can reach more than the innovators and early adopters. However, the BMI space is still very nascent, so it would be hard to have high confidence.

Neuralink has raised $158M led by Elon Musk and has a valuation range of $50M to $100M as of Aug 28, 2017 [7].

Interestingly enough, as the price of the Link drop to a couple of thousands of dollars and new applications are discovered, nearly all age groups could get a Link, potentially improving the lives of millions of people worldwide and expanding to non-medical applications for healthy individuals.

Down The Road

Neuralink opens the door to endless opportunities to understand the human brain and mind. Take a look into Jack Ma and Elon Musk’s talk at World Artificial Intelligence Conference 2019, Shanghai (“talking” at two very different frequencies, though): Ma & Musk on AI. Musk pointed out how he believes we are already Cyborgs (kind of) since we are so attached to our phones. However, this interaction with our phones occurs in a very low input bandwidth since it’s limited to the movement of our thumbs. But what if we could transmit or absorb knowledge just by thinking of it. According to Musk:

“Down the road with a Neuralink, you can just upload any subject instantly. So it’ll be like the Matrix. You want to fly a helicopter? No problem. Well, helicopters will fly themselves, but you know, if you want to do whatever, any given skill, you just upload it instantly. I mean, the way education works right now is extremely low bandwidth, it’s extremely slow.”

Also, listen further to Musk’s view of the future of Neuralink in the Lex Fridman Podcast: Must watch.

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NEURALINK: 3 Neuroscientists React To Elon Musk’s Brain Chip Reveal

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE FOR HUMANS AND MACHINES? Elon Musk would argue that it involves wiring brains directly up to computers – but neuroscientists tell Inverse that’s easier said than done.

On August 28, Musk and his team unveiled the latest updates from secretive firm Neuralink with a demo featuring pigs implanted with their brain chip device. These chips are called Links, and they measure 0.9 inches wide by 0.3 inches tall. They connect to the brain via wires, and provide a battery life of 12 hours per charge, after which the user would need to wirelessly charge again. During the demo, a screen showed the real-time spikes of neurons firing in the brain of one pig, Gertrude, as she snuffed around her pen during the event.

It was an event designed to show how far Neuralink has come in terms of making its science objectives reality. But how much of Musk’s ambitions for Links are still in the realm of science fiction?

Neuralink argues the chips will one day have medical applications, listing a whole manner of ailments that its chips could feasibly solve. Memory loss, depression, seizures, and brain damage were all suggested as conditions where a generalized brain device like the Link could help.

Ralph Adolphs, Bren Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Biology at California Institute of Technology, tells Inverse Neuralink’s announcement was “tremendously exciting” and “a huge technical achievement.”

Neuralink is “a good example of technology outstripping our current ability to know how to use it,” Adolphs says. “The primary initial application will be for people who are ill and for clinical reasons it is justified to implant such a chip into their brain. It would be unethical to do so right now in a healthy person.”

“But who knows what the future holds?” He adds.

Adolphs says the chip is comparable to the natural processes that emerge through evolution. Currently, to interface between the brain and the world, humans use their hands and mouth. But to imagine just sitting and thinking about these actions is a lot harder, so a lot of the future work will need to focus on making this interface with the world feel more natural, Adolphs says.

Achieving that goal could be further out than the Neuralink demo suggested. John Krakauer, chief medical and scientific officer at MindMaze and professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University, tells Inverse that his view is humanity is “still a long way away” from consumer-level linkups.

“Let me give a more specific concern: The device we saw was placed over a single sensorimotor area,” Krakauer says. “If we want to read thoughts rather than movements (assuming we knew their neural basis) where do we put it? How many will we need? How does one avoid having one’s scalp studded with them? No mention of any of this of course.”

While a brain linkup may get people “excited” because it “has echoes of Charles Xavier in the X-Men,” Krakauer argues that there’s plenty of potential non-invasive solutions to help people with the conditions Neuralink says its technology will treat.

These existing solutions don’t require invasive surgery, but Krakauer fears “the cool factor clouds critical thinking.”

But Elon Musk, Neuralink’s CEO, wants the Link to take humans far beyond new medical treatments.

The ultimate objective, according to Musk, is for Neuralink to help create a symbiotic relationship between humans and computers. Musk argues that Neuralink-like devices could help humanity keep up with super-fast machines. But Krakauer finds such an ambition troubling.

“I would like to see less unsubstantiated hype about a brain ‘Alexa’ and interfacing with A.I.,” Krakauer says. “The argument is if you can’t avoid the singularity, join it. I’m sorry but this angle is just ridiculous.”

Even a general-purpose linkup could be much further away from development than it may seem. Musk told WaitButWhy in 2017 that a general-purpose linkup could be eight to 10 years away for people with no disability. That would place the timescale for roll-out somewhere around 2027 at the latest — seven years from now.

Kevin Tracey, a neurosurgery professor and president of the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, tells Inverse that he “can’t imagine” that any of the publicly suggested diseases could see a solution “sooner than 10 years.” Considering that Neuralink hopes to offer the device as a medical solution before it moves to more general-purpose implants, these notes of caution cast the company’s timeline into doubt.

But unlike Krakauer, Tracey argues that “we need more hype right now.” Not enough attention has been paid to this area of research, he says.

“In the United States for the last 20 years, the federal government’s investment supporting research hasn’t kept up with inflation,” Tracey says. “There’s been this idea that things are pretty good and we don’t have to spend so much money on research. That’s nonsense. COVID proved we need to raise enthusiasm and investment.”

Neuralink’s device is just one part of the brain linkup puzzle, Tracey explains. There are three fields at play: molecular medicine to make and find the targets, neuroscience to understand how the pathways control the target, and the devices themselves. Advances in each area can help the others. Neuralink may help map new pathways, for example, but it’s just one aspect of what needs to be done to make it work as planned.

Neuralink’s smaller chips may also help avoid issues with brain scarring seen with larger devices, Tracey says. And advancements in robots can also help with surgeries, an area Neuralink has detailed before.

But perhaps the biggest benefit from the announcement is making the field cool again.

“If and to the extent that a new, very cool device elevates the discussion on the neuroscience implications of new devices, and what do we need to get these things to the benefit of humanity through more science, that’s all good,” Tracey says.


Neuralink: Controlled by mind or mind-control?

On 28 th August, Elon Musk and his company Neuralink live streamed an update to announce their progress on the ‘Link’, a brain-computer interface (BCI). A BCI is a device that converts brain signals into an output, which, in this case, will be expressed on a phone app. In the update, Musk suggested that the Link has applications in memory loss, blindness, paralysis, depression, anxiety and addiction. Initial clinical trials are targeting individuals with spinal cord injury such as tetraplegia. Consider controlling your phone without even lifting a finger, simply by thinking of what you want to do it’s probably as close to Derren Brown as you’re going to get. The Link is better than magic. It’s science.

This is by no means a novel premise experimentation with BCIs has been around since the 1970s. Non-invasive techniques such as electroencephalograms (EEGs) read generalised brain activity, and advancements like the NeuroGrid promise more accurate tracking of neural spikes. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is an effective treatment in some neurological disorders, but it can’t read or write high bandwidth information, nor can it be used in normal daily life. BCIs have been used for patients with severe motor disorders to control wheelchairs or prosthetic limbs, for example neuromotor prostheses using BrainGate technology. However, these are limited by a small number of commands ‒ Neuralink promises much more.

How does it work?

Information transfer in the brain happens by way of electrical impulses that travel from the soma (neuron cell body) down the axon to the dendrites, where the signal is propagated across the synapse in the form of chemical neurotransmitters. An electrode inserted in the extracellular space in the proximity of the neuron can detect the membrane potential created by electrical impulses or spikes ‒ this is referred to as spike detection. There are about 86 billion neurons in the brain, which makes individual spikes hard to detect and pinpoint. The Link, however, does this at a single-spike resolution.

The tentatively named Link version 0.9 is 23 x 8 mm in size and has 1024 channels distributed over 96 electrode threads capable of high-fidelity neuronal activity recording which is analysed in real time. Data is transferred wirelessly via Bluetooth. It has all-day battery life that can be charged via an inductive charger that you put on your head as you sleep. Recharging your batteries overnight has never been more literal. In order to implant the device, a coin-shaped section of the skull is removed and replaced by the Link.

The shift from experimental to clinical application is one of Neuralink’s foremost achievements. Much of this is enabled by the specialised, high-precision surgical robot that is able to perform full installation autonomously in under an hour (general anaesthesia is not required). Electrodes are inserted 3-4 mm into the cerebral cortical surface at a rate of 6 threads per minute penetration into deep brain processes is still not feasible. The surgical robot screens the brain to map out the best way to insert the electrodes in designated brain structures and avoid blood vessels. This is vital as it prevents bleeding and reduces the risk of an inflammatory reaction to a foreign object in the brain.

Materials science has played a key role in making Neuralink’s ambitions a reality. The 96 threads are made of an ultra-thin biocompatible polymer designed to mimic a neuron axon as closely as possible. At less than 5 microns in width, they are 20 times thinner than a strand of hair. These small dimensions would normally mean incredibly high resistance at the brain/ electrode interface, yet material engineering has allowed development of extra thin flexible wires that move with the brain, minimising damage.

“A FitBit in the skull with tiny wires.” Source: https://neuralink.com/

Other BCIs require in-depth analysis to untangle the messy feedback of neuronal spiking and understand what information is actually being sent. Instead, the Link analyses and writes the data in real time. Spike detection is done in less than 900 nanoseconds, facilitated by the custom-designed integrated circuit.

On the whole, the Link needs to be a biocompatible, hermetically sealed package that can last in the inhospitable environment of the human brain for decades and without harm to the user. Within a year it has already been dramatically simplified according to Musk, it is essentially “like a FitBit in the skull with tiny wires”.

Three little pigs

Current trials with live pigs are being done with apparent success. During the presentation, Musk stressed the measures being taken to ensure the pigs’ proper care and wellbeing (it is quite easy to keep pigs happy, apparently). No animals in the trial displayed observable behaviour changes. Ironically, two-month implant carrier Gertrude was rather disinterested in posing as Musk’s poster pig, but she came around eventually. Meanwhile, her better behaved counterpart Dorothy was more cooperative. Dorothy had carried the implant for two months, which was then removed, demonstrating the reversibility of the device. The similarity between pig and human skulls, and the ability to train pigs to do simple tasks, makes them a useful model. The positive outcome indicates that the Link will be robust for humans. In July, the team received Breakthrough Device Designation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are keen to go forward with human implantation soon.

Writing a letter to your brain

The cortex is the outer layer of the brain, the ‘white matter’, and is involved in low-level processing of motor and sensory information. It is clear that like its predecessors, the Link can read neural spike activity, but the 1024 electrodes are all able to read and write. Any combination of electrodes can stimulate neurons to form arbitrary waveforms and in essence send information to the brain. If controlled properly, a single electrode has the capability to influence 1,000 to 10,000 neurons.

Where a tetraplegic would have once received information from their limbs, the same information can be transmitted by electrode stimulation. The information is the same, only the source is different. What’s more, Musk postulates that in the long term, full body motion could be restored by implanting a Link in the brain and another at the site of spinal cord injury, hence bypassing the missing connection. Even someone with a severed spine would be able to walk again.

Is Thinkpol the future?

Neuralink’s dreams easily draw comparisons to a slew of sci-fi concepts. A brain implant eerily brings about unbidden images of spy comedy Kingsman where a world cleanse experiment by a lisping Samuel L Jackson goes wrong. Only the rich could afford the life-saving implant, but his plans are foiled resulting in their heads popping off in a spectacular firework display of gory confetti. Of course, Musk’s Neuralink is not fitted with a self-destruct function, but it does beg the question of safety and security. The team assures that interactions with brain data will be fully encrypted and authenticated before they can be accessed and that security considerations are being taken in every step of development. If the wireless transmission could be compromised, then Orwellian dystopia would be too close for comfort.

If executed as projected, the Link device holds vast opportunity to enable fantastical feats. The Neuralink team shared their dreams which include (consensual) telepathy, Terminator-like super vision, pain control and the ability to download your memories to replay at a later date. Society probably isn’t ready to live in a Black Mirror reality and is unlikely to happen any time soon ‒ there is no release date yet in sight. While Musk dreams of an ‘AI symbiosis’, the reality is that the Link could be completely life-altering to so many with debilitating disorders or injuries with an estimated price point of a few thousand for the whole procedure. Yet the potential to misuse such a powerful tool is very real. How Neuralink will progress is still uncertain, even with a skilled team behind it. The brain is truly complex and much is unknown, but this appears to be the future of science whether we like it or not.


Neuralink shouldn’t solve Anxiety and Depression disorders

Neuralink aims to treat some of the most severe and damaging neurological diseases on Earth. In terms of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and epilepsy, a Neuralink device would be a great way to prevent these diseases from ruining everyday life for those who have been affected by them. With that being said, Neuralink needs not to treat anxiety and depression disorders, because those illnesses require human reaction and vulnerability to treat. Defeating anxiety and depression should be done without the help of a complete fix, and it is crucial not to look past the importance of humans being able to feel these two sensations.

This is something I feel very strongly about for several reasons.

Before I dive into those reasons, I want to explain why I feel qualified enough to take a stance that I think many supporters of Neuralink will disagree with.

I have dealt with clinical anxiety and severe depression for my entire life. I was clinically diagnosed in 2009 at the age of 14 with both of these disorders, and I would estimate that it took me around 11 and a half years of diligence on my part to begin living a normal life. My anxiety and depression disorders hindered me from doing a lot of things in my life: playing certain sports, moving away for college (on multiple occasions), keeping past jobs, committing to relationships, etc. It has affected me in the worst way for so many years, and I would never want anyone, even my worst enemy, to experience the things that I felt on a daily basis when I was under the control of these two diseases.

However, I don’t think that everyone should completely rid themselves of anxiety and depression. Why? Because they are two emotions, as humans, we need to have.

Anxiety, while painful and difficult to confront head-on, is necessary for some reasons. The first being the obvious, anxiety is an excellent way to sense when danger is near, and it is a crucial part of our fight or flight response. It can warn someone when there is an issue with what is going on near them and can be life-saving in certain circumstances.

Anxiety also is an opportunity to grow as a human being. Facing and confronting anxious thoughts is one of the best ways to test resilience and learn about what we are made of. Anxiety teaches us a lot about ourselves, and while frightening, facing it directly is one of the best ways to show that we can push through certain circumstances that we aren’t confident about.

This is a preview from our weekly newsletter. Each week I go �yond the News’ and handcraft a special edition that includes my thoughts on the biggest stories, why it matters, and how it could impact the future. 

A big thanks to our long-time supporters and new subscribers! Thank you.

Depression, while more severe in my own experiences, also has its advantages. Without darkness, we wouldn’t know what light is. Without depression, we wouldn’t know about happiness. There are points where humans need to face adversity and challenging circumstances to feel the great things about life.

Now, the way I treated my anxiety and depression disorders was a clinically-focused approach. I regularly attended therapy sessions, took medication, and spoke to doctors as often as I could. While I wholeheartedly believe everyone should talk to a therapist at least three times a year, I disagree with taking medications. In my experience, they are a masking agent for anxiety and depression disorders, especially. They caused me more problems after I started taking them, and the side effects needed treatment on their own.

I believe the best way to treat disorders like anxiety and depression is solely up to the person who is dealing with them. When I started to make real progress with my issues, I began using Exposure Therapy to treat my problems. I did as many things as I could that scared me. This included long drives by myself, roller coasters, and doing more things independently. When I started doing these things, I had stopped taking medication, and my self-diligence started to solve the problems I was facing.

I am in no way condoning that medication is not a wrong way to initially treat these illnesses. However, I do not believe that the healthy dose of side effects that come as a result of taking these medications is helpful to anyone who is being treated for either disorder.

This is where my issue with Neuralink comes in.

I believe that Neuralink intends to completely remove these sensations from a person’s emotions, which I feel can be dangerous to the future. Taking away emotions from humans can be detrimental to the way people communicate with each other and respond to specific events. As hazardous and as stressful as dealing with any mental illness is, solving them requires a long and tiring fight. It is not easy, but anything in life that is worth doing rarely is.

I believe very strongly that removing emotions from humans is one of the most dangerous things that anyone could do. At what point will devices like Neuralink completely take over the human brain? When will emotions begin to disappear from people? Could it lead to a decreased amount of social interaction? How would that make us any different than robots?

It is dangerous, in my opinion, to remove core emotional responses from a human. Nobody wants to be depressed, and nobody wants to be anxious. But treating these diseases is done by finding out who we are as people. It requires us to go out of our comfort zones and grow, not put a chip in our heads or a pill in our throats that eliminates the possibility of feeling certain sensations.

There comes the point where our humanness needs to be preserved. The invention of Smartphones has taken away a lot of opportunities for face-to-face interaction, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that anxiety and depression disorders are caused by these devices, especially through social media use.

I am interested to hear other points on this matter because I know some people have different experiences with anxiety and depression than me. One thing I’ve always loved is hearing other people’s stories about how their anxiety or depression changed their lives. It usually starts with a valley and turns into a peak. While this can differ from case to case, two people rarely have identical stories when talking about their experiences. They also, frequently, are different from one case to the next because of how we obtained anxiety or depression. Some get it through abuse, and some get it from other forms of trauma when their brain is developing.

Neuralink is yet another brilliant idea from Elon Musk. It will hopefully change the way certain neurological diseases are treated and can provide some insight into what causes these medical conditions. However, there has to be boundaries and taking emotions and psychological responses away, in my opinion, is not the right thing to do. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Darknessꃊnnot drive out darkness only light can do that.”

I use this newsletter to share my thoughts on what is going on in the Tesla world. If you want to talk to me directly, you can਎mail me or reach me on Twitter. I don’t bite, be sure to reach out!


Neuralink shouldn’t solve Anxiety and Depression disorders

Neuralink aims to treat some of the most severe and damaging neurological diseases on Earth. In terms of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and epilepsy, a Neuralink device would be a great way to prevent these diseases from ruining everyday life for those who have been affected by them. With that being said, Neuralink needs not to treat anxiety and depression disorders, because those illnesses require human reaction and vulnerability to treat. Defeating anxiety and depression should be done without the help of a complete fix, and it is crucial not to look past the importance of humans being able to feel these two sensations.

This is something I feel very strongly about for several reasons.

Before I dive into those reasons, I want to explain why I feel qualified enough to take a stance that I think many supporters of Neuralink will disagree with.

I have dealt with clinical anxiety and severe depression for my entire life. I was clinically diagnosed in 2009 at the age of 14 with both of these disorders, and I would estimate that it took me around 11 and a half years of diligence on my part to begin living a normal life. My anxiety and depression disorders hindered me from doing a lot of things in my life: playing certain sports, moving away for college (on multiple occasions), keeping past jobs, committing to relationships, etc. It has affected me in the worst way for so many years, and I would never want anyone, even my worst enemy, to experience the things that I felt on a daily basis when I was under the control of these two diseases.

However, I don’t think that everyone should completely rid themselves of anxiety and depression. Why? Because they are two emotions, as humans, we need to have.

Anxiety, while painful and difficult to confront head-on, is necessary for some reasons. The first being the obvious, anxiety is an excellent way to sense when danger is near, and it is a crucial part of our fight or flight response. It can warn someone when there is an issue with what is going on near them and can be life-saving in certain circumstances.

Anxiety also is an opportunity to grow as a human being. Facing and confronting anxious thoughts is one of the best ways to test resilience and learn about what we are made of. Anxiety teaches us a lot about ourselves, and while frightening, facing it directly is one of the best ways to show that we can push through certain circumstances that we aren’t confident about.

This is a preview from our weekly newsletter. Each week I go �yond the News’ and handcraft a special edition that includes my thoughts on the biggest stories, why it matters, and how it could impact the future. 

A big thanks to our long-time supporters and new subscribers! Thank you.

Depression, while more severe in my own experiences, also has its advantages. Without darkness, we wouldn’t know what light is. Without depression, we wouldn’t know about happiness. There are points where humans need to face adversity and challenging circumstances to feel the great things about life.

Now, the way I treated my anxiety and depression disorders was a clinically-focused approach. I regularly attended therapy sessions, took medication, and spoke to doctors as often as I could. While I wholeheartedly believe everyone should talk to a therapist at least three times a year, I disagree with taking medications. In my experience, they are a masking agent for anxiety and depression disorders, especially. They caused me more problems after I started taking them, and the side effects needed treatment on their own.

I believe the best way to treat disorders like anxiety and depression is solely up to the person who is dealing with them. When I started to make real progress with my issues, I began using Exposure Therapy to treat my problems. I did as many things as I could that scared me. This included long drives by myself, roller coasters, and doing more things independently. When I started doing these things, I had stopped taking medication, and my self-diligence started to solve the problems I was facing.

I am in no way condoning that medication is not a wrong way to initially treat these illnesses. However, I do not believe that the healthy dose of side effects that come as a result of taking these medications is helpful to anyone who is being treated for either disorder.

This is where my issue with Neuralink comes in.

I believe that Neuralink intends to completely remove these sensations from a person’s emotions, which I feel can be dangerous to the future. Taking away emotions from humans can be detrimental to the way people communicate with each other and respond to specific events. As hazardous and as stressful as dealing with any mental illness is, solving them requires a long and tiring fight. It is not easy, but anything in life that is worth doing rarely is.

I believe very strongly that removing emotions from humans is one of the most dangerous things that anyone could do. At what point will devices like Neuralink completely take over the human brain? When will emotions begin to disappear from people? Could it lead to a decreased amount of social interaction? How would that make us any different than robots?

It is dangerous, in my opinion, to remove core emotional responses from a human. Nobody wants to be depressed, and nobody wants to be anxious. But treating these diseases is done by finding out who we are as people. It requires us to go out of our comfort zones and grow, not put a chip in our heads or a pill in our throats that eliminates the possibility of feeling certain sensations.

There comes the point where our humanness needs to be preserved. The invention of Smartphones has taken away a lot of opportunities for face-to-face interaction, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that anxiety and depression disorders are caused by these devices, especially through social media use.

I am interested to hear other points on this matter because I know some people have different experiences with anxiety and depression than me. One thing I’ve always loved is hearing other people’s stories about how their anxiety or depression changed their lives. It usually starts with a valley and turns into a peak. While this can differ from case to case, two people rarely have identical stories when talking about their experiences. They also, frequently, are different from one case to the next because of how we obtained anxiety or depression. Some get it through abuse, and some get it from other forms of trauma when their brain is developing.

Neuralink is yet another brilliant idea from Elon Musk. It will hopefully change the way certain neurological diseases are treated and can provide some insight into what causes these medical conditions. However, there has to be boundaries and taking emotions and psychological responses away, in my opinion, is not the right thing to do. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Darknessꃊnnot drive out darkness only light can do that.”

I use this newsletter to share my thoughts on what is going on in the Tesla world. If you want to talk to me directly, you can਎mail me or reach me on Twitter. I don’t bite, be sure to reach out!


Neuralink shouldn’t solve Anxiety and Depression disorders

Neuralink aims to treat some of the most severe and damaging neurological diseases on Earth. In terms of Alzheimer’s, dementia, and epilepsy, a Neuralink device would be a great way to prevent these diseases from ruining everyday life for those who have been affected by them. With that being said, Neuralink needs not to treat anxiety and depression disorders, because those illnesses require human reaction and vulnerability to treat. Defeating anxiety and depression should be done without the help of a complete fix, and it is crucial not to look past the importance of humans being able to feel these two sensations.

This is something I feel very strongly about for several reasons.

Before I dive into those reasons, I want to explain why I feel qualified enough to take a stance that I think many supporters of Neuralink will disagree with.

I have dealt with clinical anxiety and severe depression for my entire life. I was clinically diagnosed in 2009 at the age of 14 with both of these disorders, and I would estimate that it took me around 11 and a half years of diligence on my part to begin living a normal life. My anxiety and depression disorders hindered me from doing a lot of things in my life: playing certain sports, moving away for college (on multiple occasions), keeping past jobs, committing to relationships, etc. It has affected me in the worst way for so many years, and I would never want anyone, even my worst enemy, to experience the things that I felt on a daily basis when I was under the control of these two diseases.

However, I don’t think that everyone should completely rid themselves of anxiety and depression. Why? Because they are two emotions, as humans, we need to have.

Anxiety, while painful and difficult to confront head-on, is necessary for some reasons. The first being the obvious, anxiety is an excellent way to sense when danger is near, and it is a crucial part of our fight or flight response. It can warn someone when there is an issue with what is going on near them and can be life-saving in certain circumstances.

Anxiety also is an opportunity to grow as a human being. Facing and confronting anxious thoughts is one of the best ways to test resilience and learn about what we are made of. Anxiety teaches us a lot about ourselves, and while frightening, facing it directly is one of the best ways to show that we can push through certain circumstances that we aren’t confident about.

This is a preview from our weekly newsletter. Each week I go �yond the News’ and handcraft a special edition that includes my thoughts on the biggest stories, why it matters, and how it could impact the future. 

A big thanks to our long-time supporters and new subscribers! Thank you.

Depression, while more severe in my own experiences, also has its advantages. Without darkness, we wouldn’t know what light is. Without depression, we wouldn’t know about happiness. There are points where humans need to face adversity and challenging circumstances to feel the great things about life.

Now, the way I treated my anxiety and depression disorders was a clinically-focused approach. I regularly attended therapy sessions, took medication, and spoke to doctors as often as I could. While I wholeheartedly believe everyone should talk to a therapist at least three times a year, I disagree with taking medications. In my experience, they are a masking agent for anxiety and depression disorders, especially. They caused me more problems after I started taking them, and the side effects needed treatment on their own.

I believe the best way to treat disorders like anxiety and depression is solely up to the person who is dealing with them. When I started to make real progress with my issues, I began using Exposure Therapy to treat my problems. I did as many things as I could that scared me. This included long drives by myself, roller coasters, and doing more things independently. When I started doing these things, I had stopped taking medication, and my self-diligence started to solve the problems I was facing.

I am in no way condoning that medication is not a wrong way to initially treat these illnesses. However, I do not believe that the healthy dose of side effects that come as a result of taking these medications is helpful to anyone who is being treated for either disorder.

This is where my issue with Neuralink comes in.

I believe that Neuralink intends to completely remove these sensations from a person’s emotions, which I feel can be dangerous to the future. Taking away emotions from humans can be detrimental to the way people communicate with each other and respond to specific events. As hazardous and as stressful as dealing with any mental illness is, solving them requires a long and tiring fight. It is not easy, but anything in life that is worth doing rarely is.

I believe very strongly that removing emotions from humans is one of the most dangerous things that anyone could do. At what point will devices like Neuralink completely take over the human brain? When will emotions begin to disappear from people? Could it lead to a decreased amount of social interaction? How would that make us any different than robots?

It is dangerous, in my opinion, to remove core emotional responses from a human. Nobody wants to be depressed, and nobody wants to be anxious. But treating these diseases is done by finding out who we are as people. It requires us to go out of our comfort zones and grow, not put a chip in our heads or a pill in our throats that eliminates the possibility of feeling certain sensations.

There comes the point where our humanness needs to be preserved. The invention of Smartphones has taken away a lot of opportunities for face-to-face interaction, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that anxiety and depression disorders are caused by these devices, especially through social media use.

I am interested to hear other points on this matter because I know some people have different experiences with anxiety and depression than me. One thing I’ve always loved is hearing other people’s stories about how their anxiety or depression changed their lives. It usually starts with a valley and turns into a peak. While this can differ from case to case, two people rarely have identical stories when talking about their experiences. They also, frequently, are different from one case to the next because of how we obtained anxiety or depression. Some get it through abuse, and some get it from other forms of trauma when their brain is developing.

Neuralink is yet another brilliant idea from Elon Musk. It will hopefully change the way certain neurological diseases are treated and can provide some insight into what causes these medical conditions. However, there has to be boundaries and taking emotions and psychological responses away, in my opinion, is not the right thing to do. To quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Darknessꃊnnot drive out darkness only light can do that.”

I use this newsletter to share my thoughts on what is going on in the Tesla world. If you want to talk to me directly, you can਎mail me or reach me on Twitter. I don’t bite, be sure to reach out!


What the scientists are saying

It should, at this stage, be noted that research on BMIs (brain-machine Interfaces) dates back to the 1970s. Early demonstrations involved patients with external electrodes moving an on-screen cursor. More recently, BMIs have been deployed by researchers to actuate the movement of mechanical arms, small vehicles and even wheelchairs.

With respect to its reception from the neuroscience community, Neurolink has, so far, received mixed reviews.

The company’s major breakthrough appears to relate to the number of electrodes engaged (10x more than any other device) allowing for unprecedented levels of data and throughput.

According to University of Toronto neuroscience research fellow Graeme Moffat, Neuralink's hardware is "order of magnitude leaps" beyond any competitor in relation to size, portability, power consumption and wireless capabilities.

Ralph Adolphs, Bren Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Biology at California Institute of Technology described Neuralink's announcement as "tremendously exciting" and "a huge technical achievement."

Neuralink has also innovated in the development of a surgical robot to implement the insertion of tiny wires comprising the width of a human hair. The long-term aim is for the surgery to be carried out as a non-invasive day procedure, much like LASIK eye surgery is undertaken today.

Some scientists have poured scorn on Neuralink’s theoretical underpinning, particularly in relation to emulating higher-level brain functions, such as recording thoughts or memories.

According to Loren Frank, a neuroscientist at UCSF and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the simplistic conflation of thoughts and memories with the electrical emissions that occur alongside them, represents “a failure of knowledge of biology.”

After all, a consistent theory of human consciousness is not yet within the domain of scientific consensus.

Andrew Jackson, Professor of Neural Interfaces at Newcastle University, summarized Musk’s presentation and Neuralink’s progress to date as “solid engineering but mediocre neuroscience.”

Nevertheless, those interested in Neuralink for its medical applications should not be disheartened.

Mediating motor functions, though replete with significant challenges, is certainly not as tough an ask as deciphering thoughts and memories.

It is the former that people with disabilities will be most interested in and Steven Chase of Carnegie Mellon’s Neuroscience Institute confirmed, “The biggest thing these patients want is independence this technology has the potential to offer them that.”


Share

Elon Musk, “Dogefather” and “Meme Lord destroyer of shorts,” happens to be focusing a significant part of his time to develop an integrated brain-machine interface (BMI). Neuralink is building a fully integrated chip (“the Link”) implanted in the brain that processes, stimulates, and transmits neural signals.

The Origin

Neuralink wasn’t always from Musk. The trademark “NeuraLink” was first registered in 2015 by Pedram Mohseni (Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering) and Randolph Nudo (Ph.D. in Psychology). Initially, they focused on building a solution to compensate for damaged parts of the brain. In 2017, they agreed to sell the company’s name for tens of thousands of dollars. Later to find the anonymous buyer was the now second richest man on the planet (Earth).

Musk’s vision on Neuralink goes beyond compensating brain damage. The short-term goal is computer control for people with spinal cord injuries. However, long-term goals are (but not limited to): restore brain functionality, memory loss, dementia, anxiety, addictions, depression, restoration of senses, and basically symbiosis of the human and machine intelligence.

Elon Musk @elonmusk

5,741 Retweets 75,893 Likes

How Does It Work

First of all, if you haven’t watched Pager, the macaque monkey with the Link playing MindPong, go ahead and watch it: Pager Mind-Pong.

Neuralink @neuralink

12,126 Retweets 49,065 Likes

The Link is implanted in the patient's brain through a single 23mm skull opening, and small flexible threads with thousand of electrodes are inserted across multiple regions of the brain. The brain neurons are connected through axon-dendrite synapses and communicate through electric signals called action potentials. The Link identifies spikes of the neuronal action potentials, and these signals are processed in real-time and sent wirelessly.

We split up the applications of the Link into three segments:

Sensory function

Motor function

Processing & Storage of information

1) Sensory Function

The sensory function is integrated at all levels of the nervous system and includes all sensations that we can experience: pain, touch, sight, and sound. Not all of the sensory functions are entirely a function of the brain for example, the process to differentiate the light and color begins in the retina itself on the rods and cones receptors of the eyes. The signals then converge on the optic nerve leading to the cortex. The visual cortex is only responsible for the visual acuity and analysis of position, form, motion, and color detail. Similarly, the brain's auditory cortex discriminates the tonal and sequential sound patterns for the sense of hearing. This could mean that possibly, the stimulation of the brain’s cortex may be able to account for some of the sensory injuries and, to some degree, the restoration of senses [1].

The other part of the sensory function is the person’s sense of well-being: happiness, contentment, good appetite, sex drive, and physicomotor balance. This is related to the limbic areas of the brain, specifically the hypothalamus that receives large numbers of nerve endings from serotonin neurons. It is believed that the diminished activity of serotonin-secreting neurons might cause depression that is why some drugs that block the secretion of serotonin frequently cause depression. There is evidence that excitation of these neurons or those related to them can directly or indirectly increase serotonin production [1].

Potential treatment for: restoration of senses, dementia, anxiety, epilepsy, addiction, & depression.

2) Motor Function

The sensory information sometimes ends in motor responses, from simple muscle reflexes to complex motor responses. The abnormal function of the brain circuits may cause difficulties in executing specific patterns of movements. For instance, a lesion of the “substantia nigra”, a basal ganglia structure in the midbrain, leads to rigidity, paralysis, and tremors known as Parkinson’s disease. While the administration of some drugs has helped improve many of the symptoms, targeting the feedback circuit of the basal ganglia has shown surprisingly good results. This is achieved by inhibiting some of the signals from the basal ganglia to the cortex through deep brain stimulation (DBS) or by literally surgical lesions [1].

Identification of the feedback circuitry between the basal ganglia and the cortex and other neural pathways may be possible with the Link, offering relief from motor disorders and even paraplegics the opportunity to walk again.

Potential treatment for: Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, & people with paraplegia.

3) Processing & Storage of Information

Millions of bits of information are processed from the different sensory nerves and sensory organs and transmitted to motor responses each minute. However, a great part of this transmission of information is stored for use in the thinking process. The storage of information, or memory, occurs in the cortex. It is the ability of the neurons to “facilitate” the pass of signals through the same sequence of synapses after large numbers of repetitions.

Even when the sensory input is not excited, one can perceive experiencing the original sensations, although these are only memories. Neuralink has shown the computer control with Pager by processing the signals in the motor cortex of the macaque monkey’s brain, as they imagine moving the joystick is enough to allow them to control a cursor on a screen.

The hippocampus has been suggested that causes the translation of short-term memory into long-term memory. The hippocampus transmits some signals that seem to make the mind rehearse over and over the new information until permanent storage takes place. One consistent finding in memory impairment is the loss of neurons in the limbic area of the hippocampus. Stimulation of these neurons and inhibition of Amyloid peptides appear to attenuate memory loss [1].

Potential treatment for: Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, & memory loss.

Potential applications: control of computers & mobile devices, and the “App Store” for the brain.

Market Opportunity

Neuralink is best positioned to capture different segments in this nascent space:

The neurosurgical robot for the implantation of the Link is just as impressive as the Link itself. Developing a robot so precise, practical, and especially fully automatic, not operated by a neurosurgeon to scale to a large number of people, can revolutionize surgeries in general and help in a variety of complex procedures such as tumor removal or biopsy sampling.

The Link and the symbiosis of human and machine intelligence.

Understanding the brain and mind. We know very little about how the brain works and the precise mechanisms by which the synapses occur.

Let’s have a look at some numbers:

The number of people with any neurological disorder in 2017 rose 970 million [2], for instance: anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, schizophrenia and alcohol- and drug-use disorders. That’s 13% of the global population.

The goal is that the Link surgery gets pretty close to LASIK in a few years. LASIK surgery or laser vision correction is a type of refractive surgery for the correction of myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism—each procedure taking only about five minutes. In 2015, 604,000 surgeries were performed, and on average, the surgery cost in 2020 was $2,246 per eye [3]. That’s around $1.4 billion a year in revenue, and such refractive eye errors represent a 2% share of the global population.

The neurosurgical robot can be automated, inserting up to 192 electrodes per minute and allowing the surgeon to retain full control. In 2019, the robot demonstrated to be very precise with an 87% insertion success rate and 45 minutes average insertion time, producing an efficient and scalable approach.

The current gold standard for brain-activity recordings is the Blackrock NeuroPort™ System [4]. This 510(k) cleared Class II device [5] operates with up to 256 electrodes in what is so-called the “Utah Array.” Dr. Andrew Schwartz (Ph.D. in Neurobiology) and the University of Pittsburgh have been working for years in a brain-interface approach with the NeuroPort. Watch the presentation of his incredible work at Living Machines 2014, Milan: Dr. Schwartz’s Talk. Here you can get a sense of some of the successes and promising results of what 256 channels can bring. The Link operates with 1024 electrodes (four times the current devices’ channels) and improves the usability with wireless transmission [6].

Elon Musk and Neuralink have drawn huge attention. We’ve been tracking poll results in Twitter of the form “Would you get a Link?” that mention Neuralink since 2019, and the acceptance numbers have been very positive. See for yourself:

It added up to 5892 responses: 52% would get a Link, 42% won’t, and 5% don’t know yet. Definitely still very early, but people like Neuralink, and a great part want the Link. Assuming adoption of

16% in the first 5 years of solely the neurological disorders market (970 million) would put the Link on 155 million people or a

2% share of the global population. Perhaps if Neuralink executes exceptionally well, they can reach more than the innovators and early adopters. However, the BMI space is still very nascent, so it would be hard to have high confidence.

Neuralink has raised $158M led by Elon Musk and has a valuation range of $50M to $100M as of Aug 28, 2017 [7].

Interestingly enough, as the price of the Link drop to a couple of thousands of dollars and new applications are discovered, nearly all age groups could get a Link, potentially improving the lives of millions of people worldwide and expanding to non-medical applications for healthy individuals.

Down The Road

Neuralink opens the door to endless opportunities to understand the human brain and mind. Take a look into Jack Ma and Elon Musk’s talk at World Artificial Intelligence Conference 2019, Shanghai (“talking” at two very different frequencies, though): Ma & Musk on AI. Musk pointed out how he believes we are already Cyborgs (kind of) since we are so attached to our phones. However, this interaction with our phones occurs in a very low input bandwidth since it’s limited to the movement of our thumbs. But what if we could transmit or absorb knowledge just by thinking of it. According to Musk:

“Down the road with a Neuralink, you can just upload any subject instantly. So it’ll be like the Matrix. You want to fly a helicopter? No problem. Well, helicopters will fly themselves, but you know, if you want to do whatever, any given skill, you just upload it instantly. I mean, the way education works right now is extremely low bandwidth, it’s extremely slow.”

Also, listen further to Musk’s view of the future of Neuralink in the Lex Fridman Podcast: Must watch.

Thanks for checking Unskilled Biomed out. This is our first article! If you like our research, feel free to subscribe.


NEURALINK: 3 Neuroscientists React To Elon Musk’s Brain Chip Reveal

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE FOR HUMANS AND MACHINES? Elon Musk would argue that it involves wiring brains directly up to computers – but neuroscientists tell Inverse that’s easier said than done.

On August 28, Musk and his team unveiled the latest updates from secretive firm Neuralink with a demo featuring pigs implanted with their brain chip device. These chips are called Links, and they measure 0.9 inches wide by 0.3 inches tall. They connect to the brain via wires, and provide a battery life of 12 hours per charge, after which the user would need to wirelessly charge again. During the demo, a screen showed the real-time spikes of neurons firing in the brain of one pig, Gertrude, as she snuffed around her pen during the event.

It was an event designed to show how far Neuralink has come in terms of making its science objectives reality. But how much of Musk’s ambitions for Links are still in the realm of science fiction?

Neuralink argues the chips will one day have medical applications, listing a whole manner of ailments that its chips could feasibly solve. Memory loss, depression, seizures, and brain damage were all suggested as conditions where a generalized brain device like the Link could help.

Ralph Adolphs, Bren Professor of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Biology at California Institute of Technology, tells Inverse Neuralink’s announcement was “tremendously exciting” and “a huge technical achievement.”

Neuralink is “a good example of technology outstripping our current ability to know how to use it,” Adolphs says. “The primary initial application will be for people who are ill and for clinical reasons it is justified to implant such a chip into their brain. It would be unethical to do so right now in a healthy person.”

“But who knows what the future holds?” He adds.

Adolphs says the chip is comparable to the natural processes that emerge through evolution. Currently, to interface between the brain and the world, humans use their hands and mouth. But to imagine just sitting and thinking about these actions is a lot harder, so a lot of the future work will need to focus on making this interface with the world feel more natural, Adolphs says.

Achieving that goal could be further out than the Neuralink demo suggested. John Krakauer, chief medical and scientific officer at MindMaze and professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University, tells Inverse that his view is humanity is “still a long way away” from consumer-level linkups.

“Let me give a more specific concern: The device we saw was placed over a single sensorimotor area,” Krakauer says. “If we want to read thoughts rather than movements (assuming we knew their neural basis) where do we put it? How many will we need? How does one avoid having one’s scalp studded with them? No mention of any of this of course.”

While a brain linkup may get people “excited” because it “has echoes of Charles Xavier in the X-Men,” Krakauer argues that there’s plenty of potential non-invasive solutions to help people with the conditions Neuralink says its technology will treat.

These existing solutions don’t require invasive surgery, but Krakauer fears “the cool factor clouds critical thinking.”

But Elon Musk, Neuralink’s CEO, wants the Link to take humans far beyond new medical treatments.

The ultimate objective, according to Musk, is for Neuralink to help create a symbiotic relationship between humans and computers. Musk argues that Neuralink-like devices could help humanity keep up with super-fast machines. But Krakauer finds such an ambition troubling.

“I would like to see less unsubstantiated hype about a brain ‘Alexa’ and interfacing with A.I.,” Krakauer says. “The argument is if you can’t avoid the singularity, join it. I’m sorry but this angle is just ridiculous.”

Even a general-purpose linkup could be much further away from development than it may seem. Musk told WaitButWhy in 2017 that a general-purpose linkup could be eight to 10 years away for people with no disability. That would place the timescale for roll-out somewhere around 2027 at the latest — seven years from now.

Kevin Tracey, a neurosurgery professor and president of the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, tells Inverse that he “can’t imagine” that any of the publicly suggested diseases could see a solution “sooner than 10 years.” Considering that Neuralink hopes to offer the device as a medical solution before it moves to more general-purpose implants, these notes of caution cast the company’s timeline into doubt.

But unlike Krakauer, Tracey argues that “we need more hype right now.” Not enough attention has been paid to this area of research, he says.

“In the United States for the last 20 years, the federal government’s investment supporting research hasn’t kept up with inflation,” Tracey says. “There’s been this idea that things are pretty good and we don’t have to spend so much money on research. That’s nonsense. COVID proved we need to raise enthusiasm and investment.”

Neuralink’s device is just one part of the brain linkup puzzle, Tracey explains. There are three fields at play: molecular medicine to make and find the targets, neuroscience to understand how the pathways control the target, and the devices themselves. Advances in each area can help the others. Neuralink may help map new pathways, for example, but it’s just one aspect of what needs to be done to make it work as planned.

Neuralink’s smaller chips may also help avoid issues with brain scarring seen with larger devices, Tracey says. And advancements in robots can also help with surgeries, an area Neuralink has detailed before.

But perhaps the biggest benefit from the announcement is making the field cool again.

“If and to the extent that a new, very cool device elevates the discussion on the neuroscience implications of new devices, and what do we need to get these things to the benefit of humanity through more science, that’s all good,” Tracey says.


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This is the 17th episode of the podcast Deep Tech: From Lab to Market’ where Founders and Investors share how ‘deep tech’ innovation can go from lab to market. It is available on Apple Podcast and other platforms,

It is hosted by Benjamin Joffe, Partner at SOSV, a global early stage fund focused on deep tech. SOSV runs multiple accelerator programs including HAX (intelligent hardware) and IndieBio (life sciences). To hear about new episodes, sign up to the newsletter or follow us on twitter at @LabToMarket.

Telemedicine and Mental health are hot topics, especially in those times of economic uncertainty and forced isolation.

In this episode, Daniel Månsson, clinical psychologist and CEO of Flow Neuroscience (a SOSV portfolio company), explains how they are bringing the first medication-free depression treatment to the home of patients.

The origins of Flow Neuroscience

The first at-home medication-free device to treat depression.

The impact of Covid-19 on mental health.

The technology spectrum of mental health, from wellness apps to invasive brain stimulation.

The brain stimulation alphabet soup: ECS, TMS, tDCS and DBS.

What Apple, Google, but also Amazon and Elon Musk’s Neuralink are doing.

Other startups in mental health diagnostics or treatment for anxiety, stress, depression and more.

The current push for remote patient monitoring and treatment.

The role of regulators to ensure both a positive effect of treatments and the safety of patients.

What’s ahead for Flow and their current expansion plans.

For other resources covering digital health, check out SOSV’s videos on our YouTube channel.

Companies

Flow Neuroscience: Medication-free at-home depression treatment.

Amazon Halo: Bracelet tracking body composition, tone of voice analysis, sleep & activity tracking, and more.

Apple Watch Series 6: Includes Blood Oxygen, ECG, High/low/irregular heart rate notifications. Apple also hired dozens of doctors in late 2018 (source: CNBC).

Google Health and its CEO, Dr. David Feinberg. DeepMind Health, Verily (life sciences arm of Alphabet) and its Project Baseline.

Neuralink: Elon Musk’s company focused on brain-machine interfaces.

Calm: Meditation and sleep app. Raised $143M.

Headspace: Digital health platform that provides guided meditation sessions and mindfulness training. Raised $215.9M.

Ellispis Health: AI for behavioral health, starting with depression and anxiety. Raised $10M.

Feel (SOSV): Emotions sensing bracelet for mental health. Raised $6.3M.

Lief Therapeutics (SOSV): Training wearable to manage stress.

Other References

ECT: electroconvulsive therapy (‘shock therapy’). ECT was invented in Italy in the late 1930s. Psychiatrists had already discovered that inducing seizures could relieve symptoms of mental illness (Source: Psychology Today). ECT remains the single most effective therapy for treatment-resistant cases of depression and some cases of bipolar affective disorder and schizophrenia. Today, it is a widely accepted treatment for serious mental disorders and is taught and practiced at hospitals throughout the world. It is estimated that one million people receive ECT annually. (Source: Psychology Today).

TMS: Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain to improve symptoms of depression. TMS is typically used when other depression treatments haven’t been effective. Source: Mayo Clinic.

tDCS: transCranial Direct Current Stimulation. tDCS is currently the only brain stimulation technique that doesn’t require a physician prescription, and can be used in the privacy of one’s own home. Due to the simplicity of the technology, tDCS can be incredibly affordable. While the FDA has not yet approved tDCS for medical use, tDCS devices have been publicly available as experimental kits for nearly a decade.

DBS: — Deep Brain Stimulation. Deep brain stimulation involves implanting electrodes within certain areas of your brain. These electrodes produce electrical impulses that regulate abnormal impulses. Source: Mayo Clinic.

DSM-5: Fifth update of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Describes all different diagnosis in the mental health field.


Neuralink: Controlled by mind or mind-control?

On 28 th August, Elon Musk and his company Neuralink live streamed an update to announce their progress on the ‘Link’, a brain-computer interface (BCI). A BCI is a device that converts brain signals into an output, which, in this case, will be expressed on a phone app. In the update, Musk suggested that the Link has applications in memory loss, blindness, paralysis, depression, anxiety and addiction. Initial clinical trials are targeting individuals with spinal cord injury such as tetraplegia. Consider controlling your phone without even lifting a finger, simply by thinking of what you want to do it’s probably as close to Derren Brown as you’re going to get. The Link is better than magic. It’s science.

This is by no means a novel premise experimentation with BCIs has been around since the 1970s. Non-invasive techniques such as electroencephalograms (EEGs) read generalised brain activity, and advancements like the NeuroGrid promise more accurate tracking of neural spikes. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is an effective treatment in some neurological disorders, but it can’t read or write high bandwidth information, nor can it be used in normal daily life. BCIs have been used for patients with severe motor disorders to control wheelchairs or prosthetic limbs, for example neuromotor prostheses using BrainGate technology. However, these are limited by a small number of commands ‒ Neuralink promises much more.

How does it work?

Information transfer in the brain happens by way of electrical impulses that travel from the soma (neuron cell body) down the axon to the dendrites, where the signal is propagated across the synapse in the form of chemical neurotransmitters. An electrode inserted in the extracellular space in the proximity of the neuron can detect the membrane potential created by electrical impulses or spikes ‒ this is referred to as spike detection. There are about 86 billion neurons in the brain, which makes individual spikes hard to detect and pinpoint. The Link, however, does this at a single-spike resolution.

The tentatively named Link version 0.9 is 23 x 8 mm in size and has 1024 channels distributed over 96 electrode threads capable of high-fidelity neuronal activity recording which is analysed in real time. Data is transferred wirelessly via Bluetooth. It has all-day battery life that can be charged via an inductive charger that you put on your head as you sleep. Recharging your batteries overnight has never been more literal. In order to implant the device, a coin-shaped section of the skull is removed and replaced by the Link.

The shift from experimental to clinical application is one of Neuralink’s foremost achievements. Much of this is enabled by the specialised, high-precision surgical robot that is able to perform full installation autonomously in under an hour (general anaesthesia is not required). Electrodes are inserted 3-4 mm into the cerebral cortical surface at a rate of 6 threads per minute penetration into deep brain processes is still not feasible. The surgical robot screens the brain to map out the best way to insert the electrodes in designated brain structures and avoid blood vessels. This is vital as it prevents bleeding and reduces the risk of an inflammatory reaction to a foreign object in the brain.

Materials science has played a key role in making Neuralink’s ambitions a reality. The 96 threads are made of an ultra-thin biocompatible polymer designed to mimic a neuron axon as closely as possible. At less than 5 microns in width, they are 20 times thinner than a strand of hair. These small dimensions would normally mean incredibly high resistance at the brain/ electrode interface, yet material engineering has allowed development of extra thin flexible wires that move with the brain, minimising damage.

“A FitBit in the skull with tiny wires.” Source: https://neuralink.com/

Other BCIs require in-depth analysis to untangle the messy feedback of neuronal spiking and understand what information is actually being sent. Instead, the Link analyses and writes the data in real time. Spike detection is done in less than 900 nanoseconds, facilitated by the custom-designed integrated circuit.

On the whole, the Link needs to be a biocompatible, hermetically sealed package that can last in the inhospitable environment of the human brain for decades and without harm to the user. Within a year it has already been dramatically simplified according to Musk, it is essentially “like a FitBit in the skull with tiny wires”.

Three little pigs

Current trials with live pigs are being done with apparent success. During the presentation, Musk stressed the measures being taken to ensure the pigs’ proper care and wellbeing (it is quite easy to keep pigs happy, apparently). No animals in the trial displayed observable behaviour changes. Ironically, two-month implant carrier Gertrude was rather disinterested in posing as Musk’s poster pig, but she came around eventually. Meanwhile, her better behaved counterpart Dorothy was more cooperative. Dorothy had carried the implant for two months, which was then removed, demonstrating the reversibility of the device. The similarity between pig and human skulls, and the ability to train pigs to do simple tasks, makes them a useful model. The positive outcome indicates that the Link will be robust for humans. In July, the team received Breakthrough Device Designation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are keen to go forward with human implantation soon.

Writing a letter to your brain

The cortex is the outer layer of the brain, the ‘white matter’, and is involved in low-level processing of motor and sensory information. It is clear that like its predecessors, the Link can read neural spike activity, but the 1024 electrodes are all able to read and write. Any combination of electrodes can stimulate neurons to form arbitrary waveforms and in essence send information to the brain. If controlled properly, a single electrode has the capability to influence 1,000 to 10,000 neurons.

Where a tetraplegic would have once received information from their limbs, the same information can be transmitted by electrode stimulation. The information is the same, only the source is different. What’s more, Musk postulates that in the long term, full body motion could be restored by implanting a Link in the brain and another at the site of spinal cord injury, hence bypassing the missing connection. Even someone with a severed spine would be able to walk again.

Is Thinkpol the future?

Neuralink’s dreams easily draw comparisons to a slew of sci-fi concepts. A brain implant eerily brings about unbidden images of spy comedy Kingsman where a world cleanse experiment by a lisping Samuel L Jackson goes wrong. Only the rich could afford the life-saving implant, but his plans are foiled resulting in their heads popping off in a spectacular firework display of gory confetti. Of course, Musk’s Neuralink is not fitted with a self-destruct function, but it does beg the question of safety and security. The team assures that interactions with brain data will be fully encrypted and authenticated before they can be accessed and that security considerations are being taken in every step of development. If the wireless transmission could be compromised, then Orwellian dystopia would be too close for comfort.

If executed as projected, the Link device holds vast opportunity to enable fantastical feats. The Neuralink team shared their dreams which include (consensual) telepathy, Terminator-like super vision, pain control and the ability to download your memories to replay at a later date. Society probably isn’t ready to live in a Black Mirror reality and is unlikely to happen any time soon ‒ there is no release date yet in sight. While Musk dreams of an ‘AI symbiosis’, the reality is that the Link could be completely life-altering to so many with debilitating disorders or injuries with an estimated price point of a few thousand for the whole procedure. Yet the potential to misuse such a powerful tool is very real. How Neuralink will progress is still uncertain, even with a skilled team behind it. The brain is truly complex and much is unknown, but this appears to be the future of science whether we like it or not.


Linking the brain with computers will take time

Some basic devices make use of the symbiosis between brains and machines. There are, for example, machines that record brain activity, such as electroencephalograms (EEG). Likewise, the company DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has already created a surgical microchip that allows paralyzed people to pilot simulated planes.

Neuralink means going one step further by continuously exchanging information between a computer and the brain. It’s about allowing a quadriplegic person to walk again and recover the functions of their body. Also, a person with depression could receive other types of mental stimuli to progressively improve their state of mind.

Something like this will take time. Furthermore, Elon Musk informed the world that his company would start testing Neuralink on humans in 2020. However, this won’t be possible for a while because the interface implant still needs improvement. The goal is to further optimize the robot that’ll perform these interventions so they can do it quickly, accurately, and under local anesthesia. The intervention would last less than an hour and the device wouldn’t be visible. In other words, a person wouldn’t feel anything.


Neuralink: Brain hacking is exceptionally hard, no matter what Elon Musk says

Elon Musk at Neuralink presentation with robot. Credit: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr, CC BY-SA

If thoughts, feelings and other mental activities are nothing more than electrochemical signals flowing around a vast network of brain cells, will connecting these signals with digital electronics allow us to enhance the abilities of our brains?

That's what tech entrepreneur Elon Musk suggested in a recent presentation of the Neuralink device, an innovative brain-machine interface implanted in a pig called Gertrude. But how feasible is his vision? When I raised some brief reservations about the science, Musk dismissed them in a tweet saying: "It is unfortunately common for many in academia to overweight the value of ideas and underweight bringing them to fruition. The idea of going to the moon is trivial, but going to the moon is hard."

Brain-machine interfaces use electrodes to translate neuronal information into commands capable of controlling external systems such as a computer or robotic arm. I understand the work involved in building one. In 2005, I helped develop Neurochips, which recorded brain signals, known as action potentials, from single cells for days at a time and could even send electrical pulses back into the skull of an animal. We were using them to create artificial connections between brain areas and produce lasting changes in brain networks.

Neuroscientists have, in fact, been listening to brain cells in awake animals since the 1950s. At the turn of the 21st century, brain signals from monkeys were used to control an artificial arm. And in 2006, the BrainGate team began implanting arrays of 100 electrodes in the brains of paralyzed people, enabling basic control of computer cursors and assistive devices.

Can we hack the brain? Credit: Aleksandra Sova/Shutterstock

I say this not to diminish the progress made by the Neuralink team. They have built a device to relay signals wirelessly from 1,024 electrodes implanted into Gertrude's brain by a sophisticated robot. The team is making rapid progress towards a human trial, and I believe their work could improve the performance of brain-controlled devices for people living with disabilities.

But Musk has more ambitious goals, hoping to read and write thoughts and memories, enable telepathic communication and ultimately merge human and artificial intelligence (AI). This is certainly not "trivial," and I don't think the barriers can be overcome by technology alone.

Today, most brain-machine interfaces use an approach called "biomimetic" decoding. First, brain activity is recorded while the user imagines various actions such as moving their arm left or right. Once we know which brain cells prefer different directions, we can "decode" subsequent movements by tallying their action potentials like votes.

This approach works adequately for simple movements, but can it ever generalize to more complex mental processes? Even if Neuralink could sample enough of the 100 billion cells in my brain, how many different thoughts would I first have to think to calibrate a useful mind-reading device, and how long would that take? Does my brain activity even sound the same each time I think the same thought? And when I think of, say, going to the Moon, does my brain sound anything like Musk's?

Some researchers hope that AI can sidestep these problems, in the same way it has helped computers to understand speech. Perhaps given enough data, AI could learn to understand the signals from anyone's brain. However, unlike thoughts, language evolved for communication with others, so different speakers share common rules such as grammar and syntax.

While the large-scale anatomy of different brains is similar, at the level of individual brain cells, we are all unique. Recently, neuroscientists have started exploring intermediate scales, searching for structure in the activity patterns of large groups of cells. Perhaps, in future, we will uncover a set of universal rules for thought processes that will simplify the task of mind reading. But the state of our current understanding offers no guarantees.

Alternatively, we might exploit the brain's own intelligence. Perhaps we should think of brain-machine interfaces as tools that we have to master, like learning to drive a car. When people are shown a real-time display of the signal from individual cells in their own brain, they can often learn to increase or decrease that activity through a process called neurofeedback.

Maybe when using the Neuralink, people might be able to learn how to activate their brain cells in the right way to control the interface. However, recent research suggests that the brain may not be as flexible as we once thought and, so far, neurofeedback subjects struggle to produce complex patterns of brain activity that differ from those occurring naturally.

When it comes to influencing, rather than reading, the brain, the challenges are greater still. Electrical stimulation activates many cells around each electrode, as was nicely shown in the Neuralink presentation. But cells with different roles are mixed together, so it is hard to produce a meaningful experience. Stimulating visual areas of the brain may allow blind people to perceive flashes of light, but we are still far from reproducing even simple visual scenes. Optogenetics, which uses light to activate genetically modified brain cells, can be more selective but has yet to be attempted in the human brain.

Whether or not Musk can – or should – achieve his ultimate aims, the resources that he and other tech entrepreneurs are investing in brain-machine interfaces are sure to advance our scientific understanding. I hope that Musk shares his wireless implant with the many scientists who are also trying to unravel the mysteries of the brain.

That said, decades of research have shown that the brain does not yield its secrets easily and is likely to resist our attempts at mind hacking for some decades yet.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Watch the video: Como o NEURALINK vai MUDAR O MUNDO? Chip implantado no cérebro feito por Elon Musk. (July 2022).


Comments:

  1. Bela

    That goes without saying.

  2. Malakree

    you were visited simply brilliant idea

  3. Orbert

    I congratulate you, your thought will be useful

  4. Salkree

    She should say.

  5. Fida

    What words ... the phenomenal thought, admirable

  6. Sar

    It is very a pity to me, I can help nothing to you. I think, you will find the correct decision. Do not despair.



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