Elon Musk’s startup Neuralink has shown off the latest version of its brain-machine interface, which a monkey uses to wirelessly play Pong with its mind. The demonstration is both another step forward for the ambitious company and a fascinating look at the current state of the technology, which, amongst other things, could offer sufferers of paralysis a way to regain control of their limbs.
Neuralink posted a video of the Pong-playing macaque (named Pager) in a blog post this week. “Neuralink is developing a fully-implanted, wireless, high-channel count brain-machine interface (BMI),” the post declared. They then went on to say that their goal was “enabling people with paralysis to directly use their neural activity to operate computers and mobile devices with speed and ease.”
How it works
Neuralink demonstrates in the video how it used its sensor hardware and brain implant to record a baseline of activity from Pager as it played a game on-screen. In the game, Pager had to move a token to different squares using a joystick with its hand.
Using that baseline data, Neuralink was able to use machine learning to anticipate where Pager was going to be moving the physical controller. Neuralink was eventually able to predict Pager’s moves accurately before he actually made the move.
Neuralink researchers then removed the paddle entirely. Eventually, they did the same thing with Pong. The scientists finally reached the point where Pager was no longer even moving his hand in the air above where the paddle used to be. He sat and instead quietly controlled the in-game action entirely with his mind, using the Link hardware and embedded neural threads.
But Neuralinkl emphasizes that the N1 is not for playing games. “Our first goal is to give people with paralysis their digital freedom back,” the blog states, “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.”