The idea of connecting our brains directly into computers has been long been a sci-fi fantasy. But unlike hovercars or teleportation, this one could actually be arriving sooner than you think.
Elon Musk is – of course – involved. His company Neuralink is the loudest one operating in this space, and promising to build a neural implant – a collection of micron-scale threads inserted into the movement centres of your brain, which will allow you to control a computer with your mind. So far Neuralink has implanted a device into a pig called Gertrude, and was able to track her neural activity. From these humble porcine beginnings, Musk wants to usher in the age of “superhuman cognition”.
But Elon has competition. In 2021 Synchron Inc beat Neurolink to become the first company to gain FDA approval for testing their own device in human suspects. Their device, the Stentrode, is smaller than a matchstick and could help paralysed patients to control computers using their thoughts.
If that sounds far-fetched, it’s not. In May 2022, NASCAR driver German Aldana Zuniga drove several laps around a track in Colorado – despite having been paralysed in a crash nearly a decade earlier. A team led by neurosurgeon Scott Falci M.D. developed the chip that connected Zuniga’s brain to the car’s engine.
“Synchron plans to implant the device into 15 patients before the end of 2022. The next phase will be a pivotal trial, in which Synchron will have to show that the technology significantly improves aspects of its users’ lives.”
Paradromics Inc is another hot startup in brain-computer interfaces. They’re developing a modular system that plugs into your head, but can then reach multiple parts of the brain – potentially allowing it to help people who different sensory or motor impairments.
Plugging directly into the machines may not be as a sci-fi as you thought.