Elon Musk's Neuralink company shares video of monkey playing Pong with just its mind
Elon Musk might be more of a meme than an engineer these days, but his Neuralink technology is pretty crazy. Watch as it shows a monkey playing Pong with its mind
Neuralink is the neurotechnology company founded by billionaire business magnate, Elon Musk, back in 2016. As the name suggests, it specialises in brain-machine implants that harness the power of technology to create an additional interface between the mind, body and the device.
The companies latest breakthrough is quite something, as yesterday evening, they posted a video that shows a monkey playing a version of 'Pong' (the classic arcade and video game) with nothing but its brain. 'Mind Pong'.
The technology, controversial as it may be, is obviously intended for humans and Musk has confirmed trials are expected later this year. As the narrator states: “Our goal is to enable a person with paralysis to use a computer or phone with their brain activity alone”. You can watch the full thing here:
In truth, while the debate around the company and the pioneering technology have been rumbling for some time now, this is the first time we have really seen anything in action. As you can see, Paige - a 9-year-old Macaques who had an implant placed in each hemisphere of the brain - starts out by playing Pong with the joystick.
She is rewarded for playing the game with a banana smoothie fed through a straw and, as the video elapses, the joystick is unplugged; it then becomes clear that she is playing the game with nothing but her mind. This works as the implant tracks the neurons firing from "more than 2000 electrodes implanted in the regions of Paige's motor cortex" - i.e. the part of the brain that controls the body's movements.
We're not going to pretend that the idea of a chip being inserted into the head of a cute little monkey doesn't make us squirm - it obviously does - but it doesn't appear (at least in the video) that Paige is in any pain or discomfort. Nevertheless, the concerns around animal rights and welfare are clear and have been subject to plenty of uproar.
One of the most interesting things about Neuralink's technology is that many neuroscientists believe it is nothing groundbreaking whatsoever. Andrew Jackson of the University of Newcastle stated following the Summer Show in 2020, that little useful data had been garnered from their tests thus far and that "the demonstrations were quite disheartening in this regard [...] show[ing] nothing that had not been done before."
So, while the technology may be impressive, it isn't original by any stretch of the imagination. The only real fingerprint Neuralink seem to have left is that they allowed for the implant to sync up with a smartphone - as the narrator himself says, "just as you might pair your phone to a Bluetooth speaker".
As Vice's Jason Koebler sums up in his piece, what Neuralink have essentially done is "miniaturize the technology with the help of a billionaire". Of course, the larger experiments all have the potential to revolutionise everyday experiences for the disabled and those suffering from motor neurone diseases etc., but it's still clearly still some way off that at the moment.