Neuralink, the secret neuroscience startup co-founded by Elon Musk, has been even quieter than usual these days. In other words, until this week when he came out a YouTube video of a monkey appearing to be playing a classic video game Pong with his mind.
The video stars Pager, a 9-year-old macaque monkey who had a Neuralink implanted on either side of his brain about six weeks previously, according to the narrator. And apparently he likes Pong.
Before learning to play the game with his mind, the researchers first conditioned him to use a joystick, rewarding him with “a delicious banana smoothie” through a straw whenever he moved a slider to the side. the screen on some illuminated squares on a grid.
As he maneuvered the joystick and happily sipped his smoothie, Neuralink devices in his brain recorded his brain activity, monitoring more than 2,000 electrodes implanted in the region of Pager’s motor cortex that controls movement of the hand and arm. Researchers could also interface with devices in real time by pairing their phones via Bluetooth.
This Neuralink data was then fed into a “decoding algorithm” to train it to predict the hand movements predicted by Pager in real time based on which neurons were triggered. After a short period of calibration, the decoder understood Pager’s neural patterns well enough that the joystick was no longer needed. The narrator says that even though he is offline, Pager continues to move the cursor using only his mind. He then seems to be playing a game of so-called MindPong with no joystick in sight.
“A monkey is literally playing a video game telepathically using a brain chip !!” Musk said in a tweet sharing the video Thursday.
Over four million people have watched it since then, and it is currently in the top 10 most popular videos on YouTube. If you are interested, Neuralink also shared a video showing what the raw data looks like behind Pager’s neural activity while he’s busy playing.
Musk then discussed future plans for Neuralink’s devices in a series of tweets, echoing the narrator of the video that the ultimate goal of this technology is to allow paralyzed people to use their computers or phones through their minds.
Initial versions of the device “will allow a paralyzed person to use a smartphone with their mind faster than a person using their thumbs,” Musk wrote. “Later versions will be able to derive signals from Neuralinks from the brain to Neuralinks from motor / sensory neuron groups in the body, allowing, for example, paraplegics to walk again.”
In August, Neuralink showed a live demonstration of the Neuralink implant in action, although on pigs rather than monkeys.
“It’s like a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires,” Musk said at the time.
Musk a proposed a multitude of sci-fi uses for Neuralink Research since the company launched in 2017. They range from more practical examples like treating brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and depression and the aforementioned mobility aid for paralyzed people, to the fantastic , that is to say to can coexist with our possible AI overlords.
However, before that can happen, Neuralink will have to overcome a series of regulatory hurdles if it is to ever have the chance to become a medical device approved for human use. In July, Musk announced that the United States Food and Drug Administration had designated Neuralink as a “Revolutionary apparatus”, a statute that should speed up its federal review process. As much as possible, at least, given the government’s frigid pace for this stuff. It could still be years, if not decades, before we see significant progress on the legal front.
In the meantime, maybe Neuralink can teach Pager to play a few more games with his mind. I think they’re missing out on a huge opportunity if the next one isn’t in the Donkey Kong series. Or even better: Monkey escape.