The big advance in Elon Musk’s Pong-playing monkey is what you can’t see

The big advance in Elon Musk’s Pong-playing monkey is what you can’t see

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On Thursday, one of Elon Musk’s companies, Neuralink, posted a video showing a monkey playing Pong using nothing but a brain implant connected wirelessly with the computer hosting the game. While it’s a fantastic display of the technology, most of the individual pieces of this feat have been done before—in some cases, over a decade before. But Neuralink has managed to take two important steps: miniaturizing the device and getting it to communicate wirelessly.

What has been done

Neuralink’s goal is to develop easy-to-implant, compact, wireless brain implants. Initially, these devices will be used for obvious goals, like re-establishing some degree of independence in paralyzed individuals. But Musk has made it very clear he sees the longer term goal as making the implants commonplace and able to do far more mundane things, like providing direct, brain-driven control of electronic devices.

For now, however, the early goals are dominating progress. About a year and a half ago, Neuralink showed off hardware implanted in pigs, with the implants providing real-term data about the goings-on within the pigs’ brains’ sensory regions as the animals explored their surroundings. At the time, Musk suggested that the team was nearly ready for human testing.

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