Neuralink Video Shows Monkey Playing Pong With Its Mind

Neuralink, an Elon Musk-founded start-up aimed at developing wireless brain-machine interfaces, has posted a video that it says shows a monkey playing a game of Pong using only signals from its mind.

Pager, a 9-year-old macaque monkey had two Neuralink devices implanted about six weeks before the video was shot, according to the video’s narrator.

The video shows the monkey first controlling the game using a joystick, and being rewarded with a bananna smoothie delivered through a metal straw. Meanwhile the implant records the brain signals used to control the joystick.

When the scientific team disconnects the joystick, the monkey continues to play, but now the game of “MindPong”, as the company nicknames it, is apparently controlled using its brain signals only.

Brain signals

Musk announced the implants in August of 2020, calling them a “Fitbit for your skull”.

He claimed in a new post on Twitter that the start-up’s first product would allow “someone with paralysis to use a smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs”.

A later stage would be “enabling, for example, paraplegics to walk again”, Musk added.

However, Neuralink’s projects currently remain at an early stage of development, and the company has to date published only one scientific paper, in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, in October 2019.

“MindPong is an initial demonstration of the potential capabilities of the N1 Link,” Neuralink said in a statement.

“However, it’s important to remember that it is a small slice of what our device is intended to achieve.”

The company said its aim is to create a brain-machine interface system that is “wireless and fully implantable”.

Wireless link

In a blog post, it said its first goal is to allow people with paralysis to control electronic devices, for texting, web browsing and other uses.

After that the system “could also potentially be used to restore physical mobility” by using the link to read brain signals that could then be used to stimulate nerves and muscles in the body.

The company added that the system used in its monkey experiment, which maps neural activity patterns to actual joystick movements, would not be possible to apply to people with paralysis.

Scientists said it was impossible to fully evaluate Neuralink’s findings in the absence of published research.

But they said the fact that the link transmits signals without wires appeared to be an innovation over the current state-of-the art.

The use of wireless transmission indicated “significant progress”, Andrew Jackson, professor of neural interfaces at Newcastle University, told the BBC.

Neuralink previously showed a video of a pig called Gertrude with an implant that allowed her neural activity to be tracked as she looked for food.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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