Recently, a group in Spain, using an implant called the Utah array, which has 96 electrodes, found that that a blind woman could use such a system attached to her brain to make out letters.
In its prior events, Neuralink has followed somewhat cautiously in the footsteps of other neuroscientists. For instance, in 2021, it showed a video of a monkey playing the video game Pong with its brain. However, a human with a brain implant had already played the game 15 years before.
Instead of entirely new applications, what’s actually important about Neuralink is that it has developed a sophisticated type of brain implant using thin wires studded with electrodes. It implants the wires into animal brains using a neural “sewing machine” robot that used optics to avoid blood vessels. The device is wireless, too, transmitting information out from under the skull, making it more practical.
When Musk launched Neuralink in 2017, he outlined plans for “a high-bandwidth, long-lasting, biocompatible, bidirectional” brain implant. This brain modem, or “wizard’s hat,” he believed, would somehow allow humans to keep pace with artificial intelligence.
Despite the grandiose vision, Neuralink has more recently been talking about practical aims, like helping paralyzed people control a computer.
That is why the company’s earlier demonstrations involved implanting its electrodes in the motor cortex of the brains of pigs or monkeys. That allows researchers to read movements and transmit these to a computer, like when that monkey used its brain signals to move the Pong paddle.
After Neuralink’s latest invitation came out, some company fans guessed that it was a signal that today’s demonstration would involve an animal typing with its brain.
That certainly is one possibility. Krishna Shenoy, a Stanford researcher and adviser to Neuralink, is working with human patients who’ve set world records at brain typing. Shenoy’s human subjects use an older type of implant, called the Utah Array.