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expert reaction to Elon Musk’s Neuralink demonstration involving pigs

Elon Musk has presented his Neuralink brain computer interface in a live demonstration. 


Dr Tennore Ramesh, Non-Clinical Lecturer in the Department of Neuroscience, University of Sheffield, said:

“Watched the event.  It was more of an expansion and clarification of what was discussed in the launch event last year.  However, I am amazed by the rapid progress in the device architecture to enable a seamless prototype in pigs.  The best part was seeing the prediction of movement vs actual movement.  Just demonstrated the fine resolution of deciding they have achieved.  I believe that the world will be very different from where we are now on many different levels in the not too distant future.  May be just a decade.”


Prof Andrew Jackson, Professor of Neural Interfaces, Newcastle University, said:

“Neuralink are progressing through the steps that have been taken with previous neural interface technology.  They have moved from rodents to a large mammal (pigs), and are apparently seeking FDA approval for a human trial.  I had some sympathy with Elon, having also had experience of animal experiments that don’t work perfectly the day we have visitors in the room!  But proving the safety of new biomedical implants in animals is always a vital step towards a clinical trial.

“I don’t think there was anything revolutionary in the presentation, but they are working through the engineering challenges of placing multiple electrodes into the brain.  In terms of their technology, 1024 channels is not that impressive these days, but the electronics to relay them wirelessly is state-of-the-art, and the robotic implantation is nice.

“But the biggest challenge is what you do with all this brain data.  The demonstrations were actually quite underwhelming in this regard, and didn’t show anything that hasn’t been done before (e.g. decoding limb position during walking).  There is a big difference between recording brain cells and ‘reading thoughts’, especially when it comes to higher-level cognitive functions that we don’t understand as well.  The idea of ‘writing to the brain’ is even more questionable – there are fundamental limitations to targeting specific networks of neurons in a meaningful way using electrical stimulation.

“So in summary I would say this is solid engineering but mediocre neuroscience.  Finally, I think it is unfortunate that they are presenting their work in this way, rather than publishing peer-reviewed papers that would allow their claims to be scrutinised, but I guess this is something that we will have to get used to as neural interfaces move from the academic to the commercial sector.”


Comments sent out before the demonstration:


Declared interests

Prof Andrew Jackson: “No competing interests.”

Dr Tennore Ramesh: “I own shares in Tesla company.”

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