On April 8th, Neuralink shared a video via Twitter of a monkey playing Pong with their brain chip implant, the N1-Link.
— Neuralink (@neuralink) April 8, 2021
Neuralink goes into more detail on their blog about where they implanted the chip and how it works. The monkey, named Pager, had a brain chip implanted in both the left and right side of the motor cortex. The motor cortex oversees bodily movements as well as planning these movements. The chip can take in and send out signals through tiny wires that connect to the brain. Since some neurons are more involved in planning other movements than others, Neuralink can use a device that decodes the “predict the direction and speed of an upcoming or intended movement.” The predictions can then be used to move the Pong paddle.
One can imagine that the constant testing of the brain chip involves a lot of gaming for Pager. The reason Pager has gotten so good at Pong, or “Monkey MindPong,” is that he is rewarded with a banana smoothie through a metal straw. Pager is a simple monkey; he wants his videogames and his snacks too.
So, what can this be used for? The N1-Link being used in this demonstration can be further expanded and be used to help people who have paralysis by giving them the ability to interact with technology efficiently and even faster than people without paralysis. Since the neurons inside of the motor cortex can still plan movements, the person can imagine the movement of a cursor which can then lead to communicating with text. To learn how to make these movements, the company has developed a model of an app that takes the person through the process.
— jordan? (@AstroJordy) September 7, 2020
Neuralink revealed their chip via livestream back in August. They were able to show that the chip could track the brain activity of Gertrude the pig. They were also able to show that the chip can be taken out without any brain damage.
Since then, speculation on the brain chip’s future capabilities have continued. One of the predictions proposed by Lex Fridman, a research scientist at MIT who specializes in artificial intelligence and attended the unveiling event, is that the chip could alleviate human suffering.
Ideas about the future possibilities of the N1-Link and the company itself may seem like technologies of the distant future, but Neuralink has been able to track brain activity to training a monkey to play Pong telepathically in less than a year. There might be a good chance that Neuralink will be looking for volunteers soon.