Elon Musk’s Neuralink Presentation: Live Recap of What Happened

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On Tuesday, July 16 at 11 p.m. Eastern, Elon Musk hosted a presentation about Neuralink, letting the world know the latest news about this cutting edge technology. He has previously said that the technology is supposed to create an interface between the brain and computers, creating a greater “bandwidth” in the mind. Here is a live recap of Musk’s announcement.

This will be updated as the presentation takes place. The event started about 50 minutes late.

The presentation began with a montage representing work on the new chip.

Musk began by saying the primary purpose of this presentation is to recruit people for the team.

Musk said the main purpose of Neuralink is to understand and treat brain disorders.

Neuralink

Musk said this will take a long time “and you’ll see it coming.” Getting FDA approval for implantable devices is difficult, he said, so this will be a slow process that gradually increases the issues solved. “Ultimately… achieve a kind of symbiosis with artificial intelligence. This is not a mandatory thing, this is a thing you can choose to have if you want.”

Musk said he believes this will be important at a civilization scale, because even in a benign AI scenario we’d be left behind. “I think with a high-bandwidth brain-machine interface, we can actually go along for the ride and … have the option of merging with AI.”

He then discussed how the limbic system (your primal needs and wants) works in symbiosis with the cortex (the thinking and planning part of the brain.) He said they work together well. He wants to have a tertiary digital intelligence layer. We already have that, in a way, with phones and laptops, but we’re constrained because of typing.

“It’s a mitigation of the existential threat of AI,” he said, after the device helps solve brain diseases.

Next, they showed a video made to explain Neuralink (which didn’t quite work right.)

Musk explained that the idea of whether we’re just a brain in a vat is a question often posed by philosophers. “Everything you perceive … is all just neural spikes,” Musk said. “It feels very real, but these are all impulses from neurons… Our goal is to record from and stimulate spikes from neurons…in orders of magnitude (beyond) what’s done to date.”

He said it will be equivalent to Lasic and not a major operation to get the Neuralink (that’s the goal.)

Version 1 will be capable of 1,000 electrodes, and “we think up to 10 is feasible.” He said the best FDA system is on the order of 10 electrodes. “So even in Version 1… is capable of a thousand times more electrodes than the fastest (device we have now publicly approved.) And they’re all read and write.”

Musk made a joke about being in transcendence and then went on with his speech.

He said there are tiny threads about 1/10 the size of a human hair. Even in version one, the threads are about the same size as a neuron “approximately on par with the things that are already there (in the brain.)”

A device that’s so tiny will be implanted by a robot, he said, because of how exact the placement needs to be. Each electrode will be inserted specifically, bypassing blood vessels and making sure it’s inserted with minimal trauma.

“You won’t notice it, that’s the important part,” he assured the crowd. The threads are about this size:

And this is what the robot looks like.

The needle that gets inserted is about 24 microns in size (see the photo above.)

The chip will look like this:

The chip’s purpose is to cure important diseases and ultimately secure humanity’s future as a civilization relative to AI. The threads are tiny, they are impeccably placed, and the operation involves just a 2 mm incision dilated to 8 mm, and the chip is placed through that. You can then glue the incision shut, he explained.

“The interface to the chip is wireless,” Elon Musk added. “It’s basically Bluetooths to your phone…”

The goal is to not be stressful to put in, be FDA approved, and wireless. “This thing has tremendous potential, and we hope to have this experimentally in a human patient by the quarter end of next year. This is not far.”

Musk said they need talented people in multiple areas like security, robotics, infrastructure, and more.

Elon Musk handed the presentation over to Max Hodak, the president of Neuralink.

He explained that Neuralink came from a long history of academic research, like deep brain stimulation, cochlear implants, the Utah array, and neurostimulation for epilepsy. He said they’re not using one of these devices because the Utah array, for example, creates a strong immune response that can hurt the device over the years. There’s also a big connector, so you can’t be confident that the rest of infection is gone. Deep brain stimulators, in contrast, are very different and focused on a different type of problem.

They  had to build a surgical robot to implant the chips because they are so small, he said.

The device will be controlled through an iPhone app, he added. Learning to use it will be like learning how to use an arm for the first time.

The first product is focused on giving patients the ability to use their mobile devices on their own, and then to redirect the output from their phone to their mouse or keyboard. The first-in-human clinical study may start by 2020 with FDA approval, Hodak said. They’ll want to work with people who have complete paralysis through C1-C4 spinal injury. They want the device to be fully wireless and usable at home.

He then welcomed Dr. Matthew McDougall, head neurosurgeon at Neuralink. He’s a brain and spine surgeon when he doesn’t work at Neuralink.

At first Neuralink will only be for patients with severe needs. They’re making the device safe by using very small threads that displace little tissue when implanted.

The goal is a short procedure like Lasik with no hospital stays, no need to shave all your hair, and possible under conscious sedation without general anesthesia.

And the next speaker was Vanessa Tolosa, who leads neural interfaces for Neuralink. Before joining Neuralink she led a neural tech team for technologies used in academic and clinical settings.

…More to come.