Elon Musk’s Neuralink company has just posted a video showing a monkey playing Pong, apparently using only his mind.
It’s a demonstration of Neuralink’s implantable “brain-machine interface” that it has been working on since 2017. The company claims the technology will one day allow our minds to interface with gadgets and programs, and could one day help to treat brain disorders.
The three-minute video posted on Thursday features a macaque called Pager who had a Neuralink device implanted in his brain a couple of months ago.
As Pager learned how to interact with a computer using a joystick (a process that involved the carefully timed delivery of a banana smoothie through a straw), the Neuralink device recorded his brain activity. This data was then decoded by a computer, paving the way for what came next.
When the team removed the joystick, the implanted device enabled Pager to use his brain to continue with the same on-screen activities as before — simply through its thoughts. He was even able to play Pong — dubbed MindPong by the team — via the Neuralink implant.
Neuralink said its technology could one day enable a person with paralysis to use a computer or phone with their brain activity alone, simply by imagining their hand movements.
Elon Musk, who last year said the final Neuralink product would be “like a Fitbit in your skull,” posted a flurry of tweets about the Pong-playing macaque, saying in one: “A monkey is literally playing a video game telepathically using a brain chip!!”
A monkey is literally playing a video game telepathically using a brain chip!!
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 9, 2021
He later added: “First Neuralink product will enable someone with paralysis to use a smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs. Later versions will be able to shunt signals from Neuralinks in the brain to Neuralinks in body motor/sensory neuron clusters, thus enabling, for example, paraplegics to walk again. The device is implanted flush with skull and charges wirelessly, so you look and feel totally normal.”
The company on Thursday described MindPong as “an initial demonstration of the potential capabilities of its technology,” adding, “However, it’s important to remember that it is a small slice of what our device is intended to achieve.”
It said its first goal is to “give people with paralysis their digital freedom back: To communicate more easily via text, to follow their curiosity on the web, to express their creativity through photography and art, and, yes, to play video games.”
After that, it said it wants to use its technology “to help improve the lives of those with neurological disorders and disabilities in other ways.”
As an example, it said that for people with paralysis, its technology could potentially be used to restore physical mobility. “To achieve this, we’d use the Link to read signals in the brain and use them to stimulate nerves and muscles in the body, thereby allowing the person to once again control their own limbs.”
At a more sci-fi level, Musk said the technology could one day be used to stream music directly into people’s brains, though many neuroscientists are somewhat skeptical about such claims.
Musk had mentioned in a Clubhouse meeting in February 2021 that it had a monkey with a wireless implant in its skull “who can play video games using his mind.” Last summer, the company also unveiled two pigs with Neuralink implants. Not surprisingly, Neuralink’s use of animals has caused concern among welfare groups.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), for example, issued an angry response earlier this year, accusing Musk of animal cruelty and challenging the billionaire entrepreneur to “behave like a true pioneer and have the wireless implant put into his own brain instead.” Commenting on this latest development, PETA said the monkey was being treated in a cruel manner, adding, “Neuralink would break real scientific ground if its research left animals out and actually helped humans.”
Neuralink says that any animals it uses are cared for by experts, with Musk adding that it is “extremely sensitive” with them.
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