"It's like a Fitbit in your skull," the SpaceX and Tesla leader comments of Neuralink's brain-computer link technology.

Neuralink has made one step forward in its research, by implanting coin-sized computer chips in pigs.  Billionaire Elon Musk presented three pigs on Friday, one of which had a chip implanted in its brain for two months. The project had the approval of the US Food and Drug Administration.

Gertrude the Neuralink-enabled pig roots through straw during a demonstration of the brain-computer link technology. Brain activity shows as blue spikes.

Neuralink: Finding cures

The company believes it is now closer to finding a cure for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, or spinal cord injuries. Musk declared that “an implantable device can actually solve these problems”. Additionally, he mentioned depression, insomnia, hearing loss and memory loss as affections that can also be treated by this technology.

The San Francisco-based company, Neuralink, aims to achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence. The final purpose is to help cure neurological conditions by implanting brain-computer interfaces in the human brain. Scientists at Neuralink have also made progress with a monkey and are hoping to soon start testing on humans.

The pigs

For comparison purposes, Musk brought three pigs in the presentation. One pig is without any implant at all, displaying normal behaviour. The second is an example in which the implant is no longer there. This example shows that the process of implanting a chip into the brain is reversible, which leaves no side effects. The third has a chip in its brain for two months, acting as normal as any other such animal. Also, Musk stated that the company implanted three other pigs with two chips each. He goes on to explain that the number of chips implanted did not affect the animals at all. They are all “healthy, happy and indistinguishable from a normal pig” as Musk said. 

In the presentation, Musk displayed a chart that showed the movements of the pig’s limbs. The predicted movements and real movements were almost exactly the same. This reveals that wireless brain implants can predict the movements of the body with high accuracy.

The purpose of this presentation, according to Elon Musk, was not to raise money. Instead, it’s to attract people to come work for Neuralink.

Trials on humans

Neuralink scientists await to begin trials on humans, although they did not mention a time for this. Dr Matthew MacDougall, the head surgeon at Neuralink, declared that the first human trials will focus on patients affected by paralysis or paraplegia.

Neuroscientists that are not affiliated with Neuralink are still reserved. They say that the company is making remarkable progress, but longer studies and deeper research are needed.