Often our dreams have contained telekinesis and other impossible abilities, only to have them dismissed by science. However, Neuralink believes the implausible is soon to be possible…

Neuralink is a neurotechnology company founded by Elon Musk that aims to design a neural implant that can connect humans and computers. Developing an appliance described as a “Fitbit in your skull”, they seek the ultimate goal of a symbiotic relationship between artificial and biological minds.

Earlier this month they showcased a monkey controlling the videogame ‘pong’ using its mind - an impressive feat made possible by the work of motivated scientists.

The secretive company – which carries out all research, trials, and manufacturing in-house – is not the first to have envisioned and attempted controlling robots with the mind (in 2000 an owl monkey’s motor neurons were used to control a robotic arm), but is unique in its technological advancements. Whilst previous attempts have required cumbersome equipment, making them infeasible for everyday use, Neuralink’s N1 chip measures 23mm by 8mm, and is planned to work wirelessly.

Neuralink presents a wireless neural implant placed behind the ear, connected to electrodes that are inserted 1mm into the outer surface of the brain, or the cortex using a robot and 24-micron thick needle (the insertion procedure is too complex for human surgeons). It works by using electrodes that can read the network of neurons, which communicate using chemical neurotransmitters that generate an electrical field. This electrical signal can be understood using computer algorithms, allowing us to communicate with machines.

Musk predicts multiple medical applications for this technology. Many debilitating conditions are the result of neurological afflictions. For instance, Alzheimer’s is a brain disorder that affects one’s memory and thinking – for which there is currently no cure. Neuralink hopes that its chip could eventually repair or circumvent damage to the brain. Paralysis and blindness could also be cured by inserting electrodes into the visual cortex of the brain, allowing the brain to communicate with bionic limbs. These innovations are still far-off, as the brain and the neurological causes behind medical conditions are still not well-understood.

Despite these developments, there are ethical concerns; in 2018 the firm began testing their chips upon animals, much to the disdain of animal rights organisation PETA. However, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the product for human testing last July.

This has caused further uneasiness – whilst the implant is intended for healthcare, it may develop more ambitious capacities, such as the ability to enhance one’s knowledge. If this superpower were only available to those who could afford an implant, could Neuralink increase the socio-economic gap between those who are rich and poor? Fortunately, Musk insists that the price will eventually fall to that of laser eye surgery and other common medical procedures.

Whilst there are still many unresolved questions, it is clear that the future of technology is the future of humanity.