- Elon Musk hosted a live demo of his company Neuralink on August 28, which showed a pig named Gertrude with a computer chip relaying live signals from her brain.
- The chip is a proof-of-concept for Neuralink’s stated goal to bring its technology into humans, treat neurological diseases and, according to Musk, one day merge human consciousness with computers.
- Neuroscientist Prof. Andrew Jackson told Business Insider that even if the technology falls far short of Neuralink’s mission statement, it could be of great benefit to the animal testing world, which in turn could lead to medical breakthroughs.
- You can find more stories on the Business Insider homepage.
In his quest to combine human consciousness with AI, Elon Musk could massively improve the world of animal testing.
In addition to his better-known ventures, Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk owns a company called Neuralink. Founded in 201
The short term uses for the inclusion of these chips in human brains would be in the study and treatment of neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. In theory, you could even restore paralyzed patients to movement through robotic prostheses that are wirelessly connected to the brain chip.
But Musk is not happy with short-term speaking. During a Neuralink demonstration in August, he claimed the device would allow people to do things like “save and play memories” or telepathically summon their car.
On August 28, Musk broadcast a demo of a working Neuralink device implanted in the brain of a pig named Gertrude.
The device was embedded in Gertrude’s skull, and wires that fanned out into her brain with electrodes that can detect, record and theoretically even stimulate brain activity.
To sift through Musk’s solid science and more bombastic claims, Business Insider spoke to Newcastle University neuroscientist Professor Andrew Jackson, who has worked on placing neural interfaces in animals – that is, brain chips like the ones Neuralink wants to make.
Jackson said he was impressed with the kit that Neuralink was showing off.
“One of the things I think is important is that they increase the number of channels you can ingest,” he told Business Insider.
Until recently, the best commercially available product that performed wireless animal testing could record around 100 channels – Neuralink’s device would increase that number to 1,000.
Jackson said the fact that the Neuralink device is in a small package that can get inside the skull is also a big improvement. “This is of course very important when you go to people, but I think it could also be very useful for people who work with animals at the moment,” he said.
Right now, many animal-tested neural implants involve wires sticking through the skin, and a completely wireless connection covered by the skin would reduce the risk of infection, Jackson said.
“Even though the technology doesn’t do more than we currently can – in terms of the number of channels or whatever – just from an animal welfare point of view, I think if you can experiment with something that isn’t about wires going through the skin come, but for animal welfare, “he said.
“In the [Neuralink’s] They clearly paid attention to animal testing ethics, “added Jackson.” I thought it was good that they at least recognized the importance of these animals being looked after, “he said.
For future people who may get a neural link in their brain, the well-being of test animals like Gertrude is of vital importance as the tests must be done over several years to make sure the device is not becoming harmful at any point and to make sure that it works forever.
“Everything you put into your body becomes covered in scar tissue. When you try to hear these tiny signals from brain cells up close while your device is encapsulated by scar tissue, it becomes harder and harder to get those signals. This process.” can last from days to years with some types of electrodes, “Jackson said.
“The most common age for a spinal cord injury is 18 years […] So you’ve been living with an illness for five decades. For these things to be really useful, lifespan needs to be measured in decades, not months, “he added.
During the demonstration, Musk said Gertrude had the Neuralink in her brain for two months.
In action, the device appeared to be relaying information as Gertrude sniffed around with her snout, and when placed on a treadmill she could accurately predict the position of her legs as she trotted along.
This was nothing new to neuroscientists like Jackson. “This is something that has been shown many times, both in walking and in leg movements and also in upper limb movements in monkeys,” he said.
Jackson was also more skeptical of Musk’s claims that the technology could one day be used to enhance human perception and connect it to AI.
“Not to say that won’t happen, but I think the underlying neuroscience is a lot shakier. We understand a lot less about how these processes work in the brain, and just because you can predict the position of the pork leg, when it is running on a treadmill doesn’t automatically mean you can read minds, “he said.
Despite Musk’s outlandish claims of merging human and computer consciousness, Jackson is keen that Neuralink be made available to animal researchers.
“I hope that they take that approach and try to make this technology as widely available in the animal research world, along with what they are trying to do to make it available for human use,” he said.
Improved animal testing would in turn mean improved research on humans. “”
I think that would be a great advantage for the field […] This technology will certainly find application in neuroscientific research, and any new technology is good and will drive that research forward. And that research could well lead to improvements in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease [for example] even if the technology itself is never part of the treatment, “Jackson said.