Neuralink wires up monkey to play video games using mind

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Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison

Tesla boss Elon Musk said in an interview late Sunday that a monkey has been wired up to play video games with its mind by a company he founded called Neuralink. 

Neuralink put a computer chip into the monkey’s skull and used “tiny wires” to connect it to its brain, Musk said.

“It’s not an unhappy monkey,” he said during a talk on Clubhouse, a new social media app gaining popularity that allows people to have informal voice chats while others listen in. “You can’t even see where the neural implant was put in, except that he’s got a slight like dark mohawk.”

The billionaire — who also spoke about space travel, colonies on Mars, crypto, artificial intelligence and Covid-19 vaccines — said Neuralink is trying to figure out if it can use its chips to get monkeys to play “mind Pong” with each other.

“That would be pretty cool,” said Musk, who is CEO of Neuralink, in addition to SpaceX and Tesla.

Headquartered in San Francisco, Neuralink’s team of around 100 people is trying to develop an implementable computer-brain interface. Musk describes it as a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires that go into your brain.

He said the aim of Neuralink is to increase the rate at which information can flow from the human brain to a machine.

Keeping up with A.I.

AI is only going to get smarter and Neuralink’s technology could one day allow humans to “go along for the ride,” according to Musk.

To illustrate the pace of progress in AI, the innovator — who believes that machine intelligence will eventually surpasses human intelligence — pointed to breakthroughs made at research labs like OpenAI, which he co-founded, and DeepMind, a London AI lab that was acquired by Google in 2014. DeepMind has “run out of games to win at basically,” said Musk, who was an early investor in the company.

People are in effect already “cyborgs” because they have a tertiary “digital layer” thanks to phones, computers and applications, according to Musk.

“With a direct neural interface, we can improve the bandwidth between your cortex and your digital tertiary layer by many orders of magnitude,” he said. “I’d say probably at least 1,000, or maybe 10,000, or more.”

The cortex is a part of the brain that plays a key role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language, and consciousness. The digital layer he refers to could be anything from a person’s iPhone to their Twitter account.

Long term, Musk claims that Neuralink could allow humans to send concepts to one another using telepathy and exist in a “saved state” after they die that could then be put into a robot or another human. He acknowledged that he was delving into sci-fi territory.

In the near term, Musk wants to implant Neuralink chips into quadriplegics who have brain or spinal injuries so that they can “control a computer mouse, or their phone, or really any device just by thinking.”

Musk said Neuralink will “probably” be releasing some videos that show the company’s progress in the next month or so.

In August, Neuralink conducted a live demo of its technology on three pigs. An audience was shown real-time neural signals from one of the pigs, which Musk named Gertrude.

Musk used the talk on Clubhouse, which was livestreamed on YouTube after it reached capacity, to try to entice engineers to apply for a job at Neuralink.

“If somebody listening is good at designing Fitbit, Apple Watches, phones, computers of various kinds, then, actually, they would be a great fit for Neuralink,” he said.

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