9 min read
September 5, 2020
Elon Music has, probably, been watching too much Johnny Mnemonic. For those of you unaware it is a mid-90s movie where Keanu Reeves character is a smuggler, (IMDB). He smuggles data and has an implant that is similar to the Neuralink that is being presented by Mr. Musk. The concept is interesting and has been around for a while if you think about it. The 50K overview is the Neuralink is an implant that connects directly to the bran and provides a direct connection. To watch the presentation that was streamed live on August 28, 2020, please watch the video below.
(Neuealink's website)

Let's talk about the human brain. Arguably the single most advanced computer there is known. The human brain has 86 billion neurons. Each neuron sends information at the speed of electricity. Most neurons have three parts:
  • Dendrite: receives a signal
  • Soma: processes the received signal
  • Axon: sends a signal

The neurons are connected via synapses, which is the network that connects the axons to the dendrites. These connections allow the electric signals to be sent and processed. The right combination of input initiates an action. This would be similar to how you can have 2 keys that look the same but when you put them into the lock only one key will work. This is just a high level of how communication is happening in the brain. Just pause for a moment to think about everything else that is going on.

The brain is constantly receiving input from all the senses, providing automated actions (like breathing), while storing information for memory. There is a lot going on, and a lot of theories about it. If you are interested in how the brain works I would google it, there are some interesting articles out there around that, I will share a couple here both new and older.
Explaining how the mind works: A new theory
The theory of the whole-brain-work

For me the more I read the more I realize how little we understand around how the brain works.

This is not the first of its kind. We have had wireless versions that allow for one way communication so that you could think something and it would trigger an action. The discovery channel had a show that created a system where they controlled a car with their brain, Mind-Controlled Car. I would highly recommend it, but when they did this, it was not a new concept back in 2008. You can go back 2 more years, back to 2006, and find an article about a man who gets a sensor implanted and was able to control several devices, Man Uses Chip to Control Robot With Thoughts. Both articles are now over 15 years ago. Those are just the articles I remember about, I am sure we can probably go back a little further.

Let's dive into this new version of the "Link". This new version is small enough that no one would know you have one installed. It can be flush with the skull and is approximate 23mm x 8mm. The threads that connect to the brain are flexible and have over 1000 channels per link. It contains other sensors like temperature, pressure, 6-axis IMU, etc, and potentially have all-day battery life. If you have not watched the demo I highly recommend pausing reading this and watch at least the first 30 minutes so you can see the demo around the pig. They have one pig that they connected two devices to, and in one demo you could see how they can read the data that was being sent to determine where the pig's joints/limbs would be. That might not seem like much but pause for a moment to think about what that means. They have collected and analyzed enough data to read the electrical impulses of the brain to know what these impulses look like. It looks like the device can also write data to the brain, or at least send a signal that is processed and triggers an action. This is what the conversation shifts to what could be.

From here the conversation could take several paths mainly following into how the technology can be beneficial or harmful. Let's get through the bad stuff first. For some reason, people like to just focus on that. If there is a device that can write signals to the brain and they can be processed, in theory, you can control that person, everything. Which is scary, but not the worst part. In theory, could implant memories or thoughts. What would happen if someone could implant that a random stranger just attacked someone in your family and possibly killed them? It would be possible to conceive a reality where you attacked them and did them harm before you were stopped. Other possibilities could be causing issues with your senses, like seeing or hearing something that is not there, feeling like your on fire or freezing, or other horrific possibilities. It could also be possible that maybe they can send a signal that blocks other signals. What would happen if they could send a signal that causes your heart to stop beating, or you to think you are breathing but your not. Who would need biochemical warfare? This would be the next level of cyber warfare where you can take out anyone in the world with a couple of keystrokes. I am sure this is not a complete list, but let us shift focus and focus on the benefits.

Let us start with some things Mr. Musk is already touting. He is hoping this could help cure things like blindness, deafness, paralysis, memory, and stroke. These are all listed on the home page of Neuralink. If you think about it are not that far of a stretch considering what I just mentioned about harmful uses. The same way someone could write information to the brain to make you think you see, hear, or touch something that is not there, you could have it connected to a device that wrote the information that was there so the person could process. The device is mentioned about connecting it to an app on a phone via Bluetooth. Now imaging being able to take the camera on that phone and have it send the data to the device which writes it directly to your brain. So if you were born with eyes that had an issue your phone could be used so you could see. The mic could be used so you could hear. Recently a VR company has replicated touch. If they can replicate touch, why couldn't that data be sent directly to the brain, VR Device Replicates Touch.

Switching slightly, let us look at surgery. If I could send the correct signal during surgery I could ensure that you stay asleep and feel no pain by having your body trigger the correct chemicals and then when its time to wake up your body stops. Could you also use it as a way to block the pain to a certain area for a designated time while someone healed?

Diving into the gaming world. This technology could do what every gamer dreams of, being thrown into the game they are playing.

Let us go a little further into the realm of SciFi. What if this could help humans be more efficient. For example, if you compare human's eyesight to that of most animals our sight is horrible, the same can probably be said about most of the senses, along with things like breathing. If you compare our breathing to that of a bird, we are very inefficient. Let us start with breathing. If you think about how humans breathe, it is a simple in and out motion. As you breathe out air that has already been consumed mixes with the new air you are breathing. Not the best option. Birds on the other hand avoid the mixing problem. They move air through their lugs in one direction. So for every one bird breath, humans have to take two. What if there was an electronic signal that could make it so when you breathed air it did something similar. This could be accomplished if we could use the lung independently. So as we breathe in the air it would go to one lung, and the air in the lung would go to the other lung that should empty, and then when you exhaled this air would leave the body. If this was possible it would allow for all air to be processed twice. For more information about birds being efficient at breathing, you can go here. Could something similar be applied to sight as well? Not just being able to be connected to a 3rd part device but could it help people see better by triggering more efficient control over the iris, or allowing the eyes to almost zoom in digitally.

Other things this could look to do provide a unique look into how the brain works, possibly create a true AI or storing consciousness in a computer. Both are interesting concepts all of its own, and we might look into it further in a new post.
It is scary at what it could do, but I hope we rise pass using it to cause harm and look at what it can do to help unite us and help people.