Elon Musk’s Neuralink reveals monkey playing Pong with brain implant

Monkey see, brain implant see, monkey do


Neuralink, the brain-implant start up founded by SpaceX head honcho and self-appointed “technoking” Elon Musk, has unveiled a new video of a nine-year-old monkey named “Pager” playing Pong… with its brain.

The three minute video shows Pager learning to control a computer with his brain activity. At first, the monkey uses a joystick to interact with the computer for a “tasty banana smoothie, delivered through a straw.” The narrator states Pager has two Neuralink devices implanted in his brain. The devices, which Musk calls a “Fitbit for your skull,” were revealed at a press briefing in August 2020.

As Pager plays through the games, the narrator explains the Neuralink devices in his brain are reading his brain activity and that activity is being decoded by a computer. When the team disconnect the joystick, Pager keeps playing the game — and the brain-implant allows him to play “MindPong,” as Neuralink has dubbed it.

The full video is below.

Musk claimed in a tweet Thursday that the first product from the startup would allow “someone with paralysis to use a smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs.”

That’s a future that still seems a long way off.

“MindPong is an initial demonstration of the potential capabilities of the N1 Link,” the company said in a press release. “However, it’s important to remember that it is a small slice of what our device is intended to achieve.”

Neuralink has been relatively radio-silent since it was first founded in 2016. In the past two years, the startuphas produced two Musk-helmed press briefings,detailing its forward momentum. In 2019, the Neuralink device debuted and steady progress seemed to have been made in the following year, when the pig implants were revealed.

The briefings also functioned as recruitment drives, with Musk asking people to get in touch and join up. A similar call out is posted at the end of the Neuralink monkey video. But information is still scant: Musk and Neuralink have published one scientific paper,in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, back in October 2019.

Musk teased Neuralink had wired up a monkey’s brain to play video gamesduring a Clubhouse meeting back in February. “We have a monkey with a wireless implant in their skull who can play video games using his mind,” he noted. We’ve now see that in action, but we haven’t got much in the way of scientific evidence here, just yet.

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In the concurrent press release on Neuralink’s website, the company states “our first goal is to give people with paralysis their digital freedom back: to communicate more easily via text, to follow their curiosity on the web, to express their creativity through photography and art, and, yes, to play video games.”

It’s been a weird few days for Neuralink. Earlier this week Neuralink president and co-founder, Max Hodak, made an ambiguous tweet about Jurassic Park that many publications took to mean Neuralink was investing in dino DNA development. Monkeys playing Pong isn’t quite dino DNA but… maybe it’s even more impressive? Who am I to say?

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