While some monkeys have developed the ability to use stone tools, others have moved on to playing video games thanks to a brain implant developed by Elon Musk’s company, Neuralink. Speaking via the exclusive Clubhouse app, the SpaceX and Tesla CEO explained that the device enabled a simian to play games using only its mind, before going on to discuss some of the ways in which the technology could be used in humans.
Neuralink is developing an interface that could allow people to interact with and control computers using nothing but their thoughts. The technology consists of a brain implant that can read the activity of neurons thanks to a series of electrodes and microscopic fibers. Last year, Musk demonstrated a prototype of the device that had been inserted into the brain of a pig called Gertrude, whose neural activity was recorded and displayed on a screen.
While Gertrude’s implant was wired, Musk says his team has now successfully created a wireless version of the device, representing a major step forward for the technology.
“We’ve already got a monkey with a wireless implant in its skull… who can play video games using his mind,” he explained. “One of the things we’re trying to figure out is, can we have the monkeys play mind Pong with each other? That would be pretty cool.”
Addressing concerns about the welfare of the animal, the tech entrepreneur was quick to point out that the monkey “looks totally normal and happy. He does not look like an unhappy monkey,” adding that “you can’t even see where the neural implant was put in… He’s not uncomfortable and he doesn’t look weird.”
When pressed for more information on Neuralink, Musk said that the primary purpose of the technology will be to enable people with brain or spinal injuries to control robotic devices, though he believes it could one day allow humans to fuse with machines and evolve into cyborgs.
“People are already a cyborg, in that you already have a tertiary digital layer… in the form of your phones and computers,” he explained. “With a direct neural interface we can improve the bandwidth between your cortex and your digital tertiary layer.”
He even went as far as to claim that the technology could lead to the creation of a “save state” in the brain so that when a person dies, their memories and personality could be uploaded into another person or a robot.
Naturally, all of this remains some way off, and for the time being the implant is only being trialed in animals. However, in response to a request from a paralyzed Twitter user earlier this week, Musk tweeted that his company is in discussions with the FDA and hopes to begin testing Neuralink on humans later this year.