In 2016, Elon Musk and his partners created Neuralink, a neurotechnology startup. Its emphasis on building implantable brain-machine interfaces has already caused consternation among scientists.
The potential of its technology has grabbed everyone’s imagination following the recent publication of a video showing a monkey playing a computer game with its mind.
According to Gizmodo, Neuralink “remains highly covert about its work,” despite public records revealing that it attempted to build an animal testing facility in San Francisco; it then began conducting research at the University of California, Davis. The Neuralink team presented the technology of the first prototype they were working on during a live presentation at the California Academy of Sciences in 2019.
It’s a device that includes ultra-thin probes put into the brain, a neurosurgical robot that performs the procedures, and a high-density electronic system that can process information from neurons. It is based on technologies created at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley).
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Table of Contents
1. How It obtained its name.
Neuralink may be content to create unique technology, but coming up with a unique name appears to be too difficult.
According to MIT Technology Review, the name was purchased from Case Western Reserve University professor Pedram Mohseni and his research collaborator, Kansas University Medical Center’s Randolph Nudo.
After founding a startup firm focused on inventing a gadget to treat people with brain injuries, the team received the trademark for “NeuraLink” in 2015. They were happy enough to accept a stranger’s offer of tens of thousands of dollars for the name when the start-up failed to launch.
They had no idea that the stranger was none other than Elon Musk0 at the moment. While Musk has never stated why he paid so much for the name, Mohseni feels he knows the answer. “I think the name Neuralink truly encapsulates what’s going on in the realm of neuromodulation,” he explains.
2. It has drawn the wrath of PETA.
Although Neuralink has not said why it prefers pigs to primates in research, some have speculated that it is to prevent the possibility of an ethics lawsuit. Animal rights activists are more likely to target a corporation that conducts research on monkeys and other primates than any other animal. Despite this, animal rights organizations such as PETA have blasted Neuralink for its treatment of animals.
Dr. Katy Taylor, director of research and regulatory affairs at Cruelty-Free International, expressed animal welfare campaigners’ worries to the BBC, saying, “It beggars belief that animals are being used in this type of disgusting curiosity-driven experiment.”
In fact, it’s estimated that 57 percent of university trials are now in the realm of fundamental research, with much of it motivated solely by curiosity and not mandated by legislation.
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3. It is on the lookout for fresh personnel.
The HR staff of Neuralink certainly has a tough job ahead of them, with only three of the company’s eight original scientists left. Because the company (which employs roughly 100 people) is in desperate need of new blood, Musk used a recent live-streamed YouTube event to try to persuade people to apply. “If someone listening is fantastic at designing Fitbits, Apple Watches, phones, and various types of computers,” he continued, “then they would be a great fit for Neuralink.”
4. It was founded in the year 2016.
Elon Musk, Max Hodak, Ben Rapoport, Dongjin Seo, Paul Merolla, Philip Sabes, Tim Gardner, Tim Hanson, and Vanessa Tolosa co-founded Neuralink in 2016. Experts in neuroscience, biochemistry, and robotics make up the group. In January 2017, the trademark “Neuralink” was acquired from its former owners.
Neuralink declared in April 2017 that it would manufacture devices to treat serious brain illnesses in the short term, with the long-term goal of human improvement, sometimes known as transhumanism.
Musk says his interest in the concept arose in part from the science fiction concept of “neural lace” in Iain M. Banks’ fictitious planet in The Culture, a series of ten novels.
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5. There are only three founding members left.
Neuralink had eight founding scientists in 2016. Only three of them remained in the company by 2020. The breakup was everything but pleasant. According to Stat News, “internal conflict has erupted in which rushed timetables have battled with the gradual and incremental pace of science” in the prior years.
Former employees recounted a frantic race to finish projects and equally frantic decisions to terminate them. A few people also mentioned how the organization needs to dial back its big goals in order to achieve progress in smaller, more targeted areas.
6. It remained unnoticed for three years.
Even though Neuralink was founded in 2016, it was cloaked in secrecy for the first three years of its existence. During a presentation at the California Academy of Sciences in 2019, it decided to finally come out of stealth mode.
Its inventors demonstrated the technology underlying their work, as well as a prototype of the neurosurgical robot they’d constructed to do surgeries, during the presentation. “We want this load of stealth mode off of us so that we can keep creating and do things like normal people, like publish papers,” Max Hodak, Neuralink’s president, said of the company’s plan to go public.
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7. It has shifted its focus.
Neuralink may have begun with an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them attitude to AI, but it has subsequently broadened its scope to focus exclusively on using its technology to treat patients with neurological illnesses that prevent the brain from communicating with neurons throughout the body. People with epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease, as well as paraplegics and quadriplegics, fall under this category.
8. It has created a robot.
Previous research involving the insertion of probes into the brain has revealed that the body quickly recognizes the probes as alien objects and begins to reject them. To solve the problem, Neuralink developed a robot that can insert up to six flexible probes each minute, lowering trauma and the possibility of rejection.
9. It has competitors.
While Elon Musk’s magnitude, resources, ambition, and charisma make Neuralink newsworthy, it’s far from the only business working on this technology, as MSN points out.
For example, Facebook recently acquired Ctrl-labs, a neural interface firm; Kernel, a $100 million initiative led by Braintree founder Bryan Johnson, has already made substantial progress in the subject; and the US government has invested $65 million in DARPA‘s research in the field. It remains to be seen whether (and how) Neuralink can separate itself from its growing number of competitors.
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10. A monkey is trained to play electronic games.
Musk stated in an interview in April that Neuralink had developed the technology that would allow a monkey to play a video game with its mind. He quickly followed up with a video demonstrating this.
Pager, the money, was taught to play the game with a joystick at first. The Neuralink gadget placed in its brain recorded information about which neurons were controlling each movement while it was playing.
The monkey then appeared to continue playing the game with its mind after the joystick was withdrawn. It is hoped that one day, people with brain disorders will be able to control technology remotely using the same interface.