Elon Musk’s Neuralink Shows Off Advances To Brain-Computer Interface (#GotBitcoin?)
Company putting together submission to the FDA to start testing the technology in humans. Elon Musk’s Neuralink Shows Off Advances To Brain-Computer Interface (#GotBitcoin?)
Elon Musk and top-level scientists from his neuroscience startup Neuralink Corp., who are developing a next-generation brain-computer interface, unveiled what they billed as a significant advance toward a therapeutic device Tuesday night.
“It’s not like suddenly Neuralink will have this neural lace and take over people’s brain,” said Mr. Musk. He also mentioned the announcement was meant to recruit talent to the company, which has about 100 employees.
The company said it is first focusing on patients with severe neurological conditions, but wants to make it safe enough to turn the implantation surgery into an elective procedure, like Lasik.
“We hope we’re less than a year from the first safety study on the order of five patients,” said Neuralink President Max Hodak in an interview. He emphasized that it could take years before the device could help a range of patients. “The road is long,” he said.
Among the most important tests: showing they can monitor brain activity and then decode it, meaning they can correlate certain patterns of activity to actions, such as movement, vision or speech. The company didn’t specify what behavioral experiments were performed or how reliably they were able to translate brain activity into smooth, well-controlled movement.
The device has been tested on monkeys, according to Mr. Musk. The primate was able to control a computer with its brain, he said in a surprise announcement during a question and answer session. He didn’t provide any other details. A company spokeswoman confirmed the experiment had been done.
Neuralink is one of several companies, including Facebook Inc., Kernel, CTRL-Labs and Paradromics Inc., trying to build neural interfaces for clinical and nonclinical applications. In recent years, neurotechnology development has been spurred by public and private investment, including the U.S. Brain Initiative, which was started by the Obama administration in 2013.
The goal of many of these projects is to access as many neurons as possible because that would give scientists more precise reads on activity that underpins walking, speech and mood, among other brain functions. They can then turn neural recordings into electrical signals that can be fed into a robotic device or back into the nervous system to produce movement or vision to help patients, according to experts.
At the event Tuesday in San Francisco, Neuralink described a tiny probe with nearly 3,100 electrodes laid out across about 100 flexible wires, or threads, each individually inserted into rat brains by a custom-made surgical robot. The device can monitor the activity of upward of 1,000 neurons at a time, according to the company.
The sewing-machine-like robot can target very specific brain areas, helping surgeons avoid major blood vessels—an important consideration for minimizing inflammation and long-term damage, according to a paper from the company. Data were processed and analyzed by proprietary chips and software.
Neuroscientists and neurotechnologists said that a platform that can insert tiny electrodes robotically throughout the brain and then analyze activity with custom software is exciting, but cautioned it is too early to tell how quickly Neuralink’s device could safely be used in patients.
“If you’re trying to walk yourself toward human prosthetics, this is a more promising direction than currently available technology,” said Tim Harris, a senior fellow at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus and a developer of research-grade neural interfaces. Among the questions that are left unanswered by the company’s paper, he said, is how long it lasts in the brain.
“If you’re going to do this for people, you should be aiming for at least five years, minimum,” he said. “To do an implantation surgery of this level of intricacy, a year or two is not enough.”
The paper, which wasn’t peer-reviewed, didn’t include data on the long-term stability of recorded neural signals nor the brain’s inflammatory response.
“That is utterly critical” before any device can advance to human trials, said Loren Frank, a University of California, San Francisco neuroscientist developing brain-computer interfaces.
Neuralink has said it is doing those experiments but isn’t ready to make the data public.
The device, in theory, was designed to also stimulate brain cells, but “we have not demonstrated these capabilities here,” according to the paper. Direct brain stimulation with implanted electrodes is a longstanding approach to treating movement disorders and epilepsy. Most brain-computer interfaces are so-called open-looped systems that don’t adapt to a patient’s needs and experience. Neurosurgeons and technologists have pointed to that drawback as reason why brain stimulation hasn’t worked for treating mood disorders.
The advantage of a system like Neuralink envisions would be its ability to analyze recordings using machine learning and to adapt the type of stimulation it delivers to a patient’s brain, according to the company and other experts.
Because of Mr. Musk, Neuralink has perhaps the highest profile among startups developing brain-computer interface technology.
But in the past couple of years, nearly all startups in the sector have seen a considerable boost in investor and regulator interest. Since 2016, startups including Paradromics and CTRL Labs have collectively raised around $260 million from a mix of venture capital, grants and corporate investors. In February, the FDA released guidelines for regulating brain-computer interface technology, in hopes of spurring faster development of devices.
Dolby Family Ventures managing director David Dolby, whose firm has backed Paradromics, said as regulators are involved and more startups emerge, the time is right for the private sector to push brain-computer interface technology into the next stages of commercialization.
“There are a multitude of applications for this technology. Through open market competition, I think we will learn a lot and benefit as a society,” said Mr. Dolby.
Not all neurotech investors are convinced implantable devices are the way forward. Lux Capital co-founder and managing partner Joshua Wolfe is in investor in CTRL Labs, which is developing sensor-based technology to decode nerve signals, but said he isn’t yet comfortable with invasive devices such as those developed by Neuralink and Paradromics.
“There is no way I’m thinking about technology that involves drilling holes behind ears right now,” said Mr. Wolfe.
Enke Bashllari, a neuroscientist by training who now heads venture-capital firm Arkitekt Ventures, agreed there are considerable safety measures that must be ensured with implantable technology and said she believes that noninvasive devices also have a valuable role to play in augmenting human movement or cognitive performance. But she said the highest unmet medical needs will require technology that goes inside.
“It has to allow for two main things—high spatial resolution and high bandwidth. It has to interface with millions of neurons at the same time and you need to know exactly which neuron is firing,” she said. “That can currently only be done invasively.”
Elon Musk’s AI Project To Replicate The Human Brain Receives $1 Billion From MIcrosoft
‘The creation of AGI will be the most important technological development in human history,’ says OpenAI boss.
Microsoft has invested $1 billion in the Elon Musk-founded artificial intelligence venture that plans to mimic the human brain using computers.
OpenAI said the investment would go towards its efforts of building artificial general intelligence (AGI) that can rival and surpass the cognitive capabilities of humans.
“The creation of AGI will be the most important technological development in human history, with the potential to shape the trajectory of humanity,” said OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.
“Our mission is to ensure that AGI technology benefits all of humanity, and we’re working with Microsoft to build the supercomputing foundation on which we’ll build AGI.”
The two firms will jointly build AI supercomputing technologies, which OpenAI plans to commercialise through Microsoft and its Azure cloud computing business.
OpenAI was founded in 2015 with the goal of developing AGI that can learn and master several disciplines, rather than the narrow abilities of most modern artificial intelligence systems.
The startup has already achieved a number of AI milestones, most notably beating the world’s best human players at the video game Dota 2, but hopes its technology can one day help address climate change and other major challenges facing the planet.
“An AGI working on a problem would be able to see connections across disciplines that no human could,” OpenAI CTO Greg Brockman wrote in a blog post announcing the investment.
“We want AGI to work with people to solve currently intractable multi-disciplinary problems, including global challenges such as climate change, affordable and high-quality healthcare, and personalised education.”
OpenAI also claims its technology will ultimately provide everyone with the economic freedom to pursue whatever they find most fulfilling, while creating “new opportunities for all our lives that are unimaginable today”.
Since co-founding OpenAI three years ago, Mr Musk has since stepped back from the AI startup but remains vocal about the risks artificial intelligence poses to humanity, claiming its development poses a greater risk than nuclear weapons.
In 2017, the SpaceX and Tesla CEO joined Microsoft researchers in signing an open letter outlining principles that will ensure the development of AI that is beneficial to humanity.
“We cannot predict what we might achieve when this intelligence is magnified by the tools AI may provide, but the eradication of disease and poverty are not unfathomable,” the letter stated.
“Because of the great potential of AI, it is important to research how to reap its benefits while avoiding potential pitfalls.”
Billionaire Peter Thiel Backs Fundraiser of Brain-Computer Firm
Billionaire investors Peter Thiel and Christian Angermayer have thrown their weight behind a technology startup that promises to help neurologically impaired patients regain lost skills with the aid of electrodes connecting the human brain with computers.
The Utah-based company, Blackrock Neurotech, was granted $10 million from the investors to expand its clinical studies and research capabilities, it said in a statement Wednesday. There’s no connection with BlackRock Inc., the fund manager.
Founded by German duo Marcus Gerhardt and Florian Solzbacher in 2008, the company makes so-called brain-computer interfaces, or BCI. The devices are akin to mini-computers equipped with electrodes that are implanted in different regions of the brain, where they pick up signals — similar to thoughts — and convert them into electrical signals.
The devices can help patients regain their eyesight or the ability to hear and talk again. In some of the most high-profile cases, the technology enabled fully paralyzed patients to either control robotic prosthesis directly with their brain or move their own limbs again. In another breakthrough, the technology allows patients suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, even in a fully locked-in state to communicate via an auditory speller controlled by their mind.
Blackrock Neurotech operates at the forefront of a sector that’s still in its infancy. Of the just 30 patients worldwide using the technology, 28 have worked with the Salt Lake City-based company. Elon Musk’s startup Neuralink recently unveiled a BCI device implanted in a monkey’s brain.
While the devices for these patients are all individualized, Blackrock Neurotech aims to use some of the funds to ramp up production and offer its tools to patients worldwide, Gerhardt said in an interview.
“Enabling people to walk, talk, see, hear and feel again is already a massive market, as more than 5 million people in the U.S. are living with some form of paralysis,” investor Angermayer said in a statement.
Forays into connecting human brains with computers have increasingly attracted funds in the past years. Bryan Johnson, founder of the payments service Braintree, has committed $100 million to a BCI startup called Kernel. Facebook Inc. is developing a skullcap it says will allow users to mentally type their thoughts at 100 words per minute.
Thiel and Angermayer have co-invested in a range of new frontier ventures, including psychedelic startup Atai Life Sciences AG or Lithium explorer Rock Tech Lithium Inc.
Neuralink Competitor Raises $20 Million For Brain Implants
Paradromics is one of several companies working on technology to help people interact with the outside world using their mind.
A competitor to Elon Musk’s Neuralink said it raised $20 million, enough to get it on track to introduce a new generation of powerful and tiny electrodes to the human brain.
Paradromics Inc., founded in 2015 about a year ahead of Neuralink, is building brain-computer interfaces that could help people with disorders ranging from paralysis to speech impediments.
“Once you start to realize that the best way to describe the brain is through data, you start to reframe a lot of classically hard-to-treat conditions,” said Matt Angle, chief executive officer of Paradromics. “What the brain really is—it’s a data system.” For example, where a biological approach to blindness might be to attempt to regrow the retina, his approach would be to get visual data to the right part of the brain, even if it means using a computer.
The funding will help Paradromics hone its hardware, Connexus, tiny 8-millimeter square modules that get implanted under the skull, into the surface of the brain cortex. Microwires cover the modules, penetrating an additional 1.5 millimeter into the cortex, and translate the brain’s bioelectric signals into digital ones that can be understood by a computer, and vice versa.
The modules transmit data to and from a fifth hub module planted in the skull, which in turn transmits the data to a sixth module just under the skin of the chest, and then wirelessly to a nearby computer, small enough to clip onto a wheelchair.
In that manner, the brain’s activity can be translated into an actionable command, such as the movement of a computer cursor. It’s still early days for the system, but so far, a predecessor technology has been tested successfully on sheep. Paradromics, like other companies in its field, said it stays in touch with regulators to help smooth the process of applying for experimental use in humans. But first, it needs to fine-tune its hardware. Angle expects the devices to be ready to start the application process next year.
Paradromics’ technology builds on decades of research and work by initiatives such as BrainGate, and is one several companies in the field. So far this year, brain-machine interface startups have raised $132.8 million, according to PitchBook. That’s already one-third more than the sector raised in all of last year, and by far the most since 2017, a year when Neuralink raised $107 million.
Paradromics said one of its advantages comes from the number of electrodes—400—that sit on each of its modules, more than on analogous devices. That will improve the quality and quantity of the data they can handle, the startup said.
“People are using the devices they have access to right now, and trying to push the envelope,” said Amy Kruse, a former program manager for neuroscience at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency who is now a partner at Prime Movers Lab, which led the investment. “How much data you can get out? Where Paradromics is headed, and in particular around those interfaces, is around high-bandwidth, high-throughput devices.”
Of course, any such device is risky, and brain surgery is an inherently fraught process. That said, several hundred thousand people globally already have devices implanted in their skulls, mostly to control seizures and tremors.
Kruse said Musk’s interest in neuroscience and in particular the work at Neuralink—which last year showed off pigs with devices implanted in their brains—has encouraged more venture capitalists to look at the field of brain-computer interfaces.
“What Elon has done, he’s normalized neurotech for a group of investors that otherwise wouldn’t have touched it,” Angle said.
Neuralink has signaled it will boost its presence in Austin, Paradromics’ home turf. But Angle said he’s not worried, and describes his relationship with Musk’s company as “collegial.” In fact, Angle believes having two major brain-computer interface, or BCI, companies in close proximity will help establish the city as the center for similar start-ups.
“The markets in which we’re involved are hundreds of billions of dollars,” Angle said. “In the case of BCI, we don’t have enough BCI companies to service all of the possible use cases.”
The funding round includes participation from Westcott Investment Group, Dolby Family Ventures, Synergy Ventures and others. Prime Movers’ Kruse has taken a board seat.
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