Neuralink: A Continuation of Elon Musk’s Attempt to Write the Future

Brittany Hronich, Editor

Elon Musk’s companies SpaceX, Tesla, OpenAI, and The Boring Company have already baffled consumers, creating a fanbase for the philanthropist in the media. Recently, Musk has announced further developments in a new company called Neuralink. Perhaps the most innovative of them all, Neuralink quests to create a brain implant completely different from previously developed BMIs (brain machine interface system). The primary focus of this product is to begin to sync man with technology. One of the objectives of Musk’s company is to be able to operate smartphones and other bluetooth devices primarily by thought. Not only would it make life easier, but as the company notes, paralyzed individuals will be able to operate technology on their own without the assistance of others, including the use of a keyboard to type entire pages of text if they wished.

The most useful and groundbreaking offerings of the company are what they could achieve medically, according to their claims. Musk has proclaimed the device could be a possible cure for a variety of illnesses ranging from depression, to paralysis, to dementia, to epilepsy, among others. Of course, arduous goals like these lead one to a plethora of obstacles the company certainly has faced. No clinical trials have commenced nor has the company provided any physical evidence that these outcomes are even in their grasp, but it still is something they are striving for. Still, the developments in this extremely complex product still remain fascinatingly intriguing as it offers society an insight as to what technology may advance to in the coming decades. 

Aside from many  other goals the company intends to reach, they scheme for the device to be as petite as a dime in order to be installed in the brain and avoid capacity issues. Other than a charger that would wirelessly connect to the Link in order to charge it from outside the consumer’s skull, the device is composed of two main parts. These parts are classified as the Link and the Neural Threads. The Link itself is the device that, “processes, stimulates, and transmits neural signals,” according to the official Neuralink website while the Neural Threads are the thin, flexible threads that contain electrodes and detect neural signals in the brain. Neuralink describes that the device will be installed in the top of the patient’s brain and is being designed so the procedure can be executed in a doctor’s office in under an hour. Once implanted, the devices plan to accomplish the goals of the company by converting the electrical signals recorded by each electrode.

As expected, the neuroscientists and engineers working on the project face immense difficulty. Other than the fact that treating mental illnesses like depression and bipolar disorder via a brain implant is currently near impossible because medical professionals still aren’t completely sure what electrochemical imbalance causes the disorders, there are many other structural and technological difficulties. Developers on Neuralink’s official website state, “Our challenge is to scale up the number of electrodes while also building a safe and effective clinical system that users can take home and operate by themselves,” as well as the fact that, “In order to optimize the compatibility of our threads with the surrounding tissue, they should be on the same size scale as neighboring neurons and as flexible as possible. Therefore, we microfabricate the threads out of thin film metals and polymers. But the threads also have to resist corrosion from fluid in the tissue, and the electrodes must have sufficient surface area to allow stimulation,” continuing, “Our Link needs to convert the small electrical signals recorded by each electrode into real-time neural information. Since the neural signals in the brain are small (microvolts), Link must have high-performance signal amplifiers and digitizers. Also, as the number of electrodes increases, these raw digital signals become too much information to upload with low power devices. So scaling our devices requires on-chip, real-time identification and characterization of neural spikes,” they’re not done yet, “The Link needs to be protected from the fluid and salts that bathe surrounding tissue. Making a water-proof enclosure can be hard, but it’s very hard when that enclosure must be constructed from biocompatible materials, replace the skull structurally, and allow over 1,000 electrical channels to pace through it.” To say the least, these scientists certainly have their work cut out for them. 

Further adding to the intrigue of the device, surgeons wouldn’t even be the ones to install it. As a result of the device being so delicate, fine, and flexible, it can’t be implanted with human hands. Rather, another intended invention of the company is underway in order to install the Neuralink. It’s an unnamed robotic system that looks similar to a sewing machine and helmet. When the helmet is placed on the patient’s head, a saw will carve a petite hole into the patient’s skull before positioning the threads. Neuroscientists employed by the company have stated that it would be installed in a manner that will also allow it to be easily removed so patients can install newer versions of the Neuralink as it’s released in later years. 

Despite extraordinary claims made by the company in terms of what the device could accomplish, reviewers such as Antonio Regalado of the MIT Technology Review point out a plentiful quantity of inconsistencies and lack of evidence to back up such incredible claims. Regalado states directly, “As yet, four years after its formation, Neuralink has provided no evidence that it can (or has even tried to) treat depression, insomnia, or a dozen other diseases that Musk mentioned in a slide.” In terms of prototype demonstrations and press events based on his observations Regalado believes, “The primary objective of the streamed demo, instead, was to stir excitement, recruit engineers to the company (which already employs about 100 people), and build the kind of fan base that has cheered on Musk’s other ventures and has helped propel the gravity-defying stock price of electric-car maker Tesla,” for there is yet to be an announced breakthrough in the development of the device. 

Of course, all great technological innovations take decades to perfect. Even if Musk’s company can’t treat incurable illnesses that formulate in the brain, to develop a device that can allow one to operate technology with their thoughts is still remarkable and can pave the way for  new means of medicine. Perhaps this is an insight to not only future technology, but future methods of medicinal treatment. Thirty years from now, we may wake up in a world where as an alternative to swallowing pills and undergoing other procedures to treat our medical and mental predicaments, we charge our implants. 


“Interfacing With the Brain.” Neuralink.