Gertrude takes part in a science fiction experiment: Elon Musk’s start-up, Neuralink, has implanted a connected chip in the brain of this guinea pig, a prototype in order to manufacture the version for humans that will give back speech and mobility to paralyzed people.
“It’s like a Fitbit [montre connectée] in your head, ”Elon Musk enthused Friday, during an online conference on the progress of his interface project connecting the brain to computers, which is causing much skepticism in the scientific community.
The futuristic entrepreneur [Tesla, SpaceX] presented a year ago a chip with ultra-fine threads, which can be implanted in the brain by a robot, a kind of ultra-precise sewing machine.
The new model, which is wireless thanks to bluetooth technology, charges at night and measures 23mm in diameter (like a small coin) by 8mm thick.
In theory, the round chip will be implanted in the brain, without having to spend a night in the hospital, and without leaving any trace, except for a small scar under the hair.
It will first be used to treat neurological diseases. But the long-term goal is to make implants so safe, reliable, and simple that they would qualify for elective surgery. [de confort].
People could then spend a few thousand dollars to equip their brains with computing power.
For now, in Neuralink’s labs, the pig Gertrude is walking on a treadmill, snouting in a feeder hanging in front of her, while the chip retransmits her neurological signals.
From this information, the computer is able to predict at any time where each of its members is. What gives hope to restore mobility to paraplegic people.
In the event of a spinal cord injury, we could implant another chip at the site of the injury, and bypass the damaged “transmission circuits”, imagines Elon Musk. “In the long term, I’m sure we can regain full use of our body.”
Many companies are working on thought control of computers, and more brain-machine interfaces are in development.
Facebook is funding a project to translate brain activity into words, via algorithms, in order to give voice to people who have been silenced due to neurodegenerative diseases.
Many scientists point out, however, that the brain is not as compartmentalized as one would like to think.
“Each brain has a unique, massively interconnected structure,” said Dean Burnett, a Cardiff University researcher, ahead of the conference, saying he was skeptical of the real advances of Neuralink.
The goal of the whimsical boss, with this presentation on YouTube, was above all to attract and recruit many engineers, surgeons, chemists, robotics specialists and others.
The start-up has only a hundred employees, but expects 10,000 as soon as possible, to meet a mountain of challenges.
The computer chip must be protected against external disturbances (interference on the waves, signal strength), but also internal.
Its communications with the smartphone and any other machine must be inviolable.
And of course, as with Tesla’s self-driving cars, behind the boss’s ambitious announcements, the chip relies on regulators’ green lights.
Elon Musk announced that Neuralink had just obtained approval from US health authorities for tests, without specifying a horizon for the first human implantations.
In July 2019, he promised them for 2020.
But nothing dampens the ardor of the billionaire, who wants to colonize Mars and fears that artificial intelligence (AI) technologies will turn humans into “domestic cats” of computers.
The chip is thus supposed to allow us to arrive at a “symbiosis with the AI”.
He also spoke of the possibility of communicating raw thoughts not limited by human languages - “consensual and conceptual non-linguistic telepathy”.
His team dreams, among other things, of putting an end to extreme pain, of curing depressions and addictions, or of unraveling the mysteries of consciousness.
Referring to an episode of the series Black Mirror, which connects nightmarish scenarios where humans are overwhelmed by technology, Elon Musk also claimed that it would be possible to store his memories in digital form.
“You will be able to save your memories and also potentially download them to another body or to a robot,” he said. “The future is going to be weird.”