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Elon Musk’s brain implant firm teaches monkey to play Pong with its mind

Elon Musk’s brain implant company Neuralink has released a video showing how it has taught a monkey – Pager, a nine-year-old macaque – to play the video game Pong with its mind.

The video follows Mr Musk’s assertion in February that the company has “a monkey with a wireless implant in their skull with tiny wires” that it uses to play video games.

Neuralink Corporation, which Elon Musk owns alongside his SpaceX and Tesla businesses, previously claimed to have implanted coin-sized wireless sensors inside the brains of two pigs, describing the sensors as “a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires”.

SpaceX founder and chief engineer Elon Musk
Image: ‘He’s a happy monkey,’ says Elon Musk

At the time of the video, Pager was six weeks on from having had the Neuralink devices installed – one in each side of his brain – and in that time has learned to interact with a computer for a “tasty banana smoothie” delivered through a straw.

The implants work by recording signals in Pager’s motor cortex that normally coordinates hand and arm movements.

“Our goal is to enable a person with paralysis to user a computer or phone with their brain activity alone,” says the narrator during the video of Pager.

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During a talk on the app Clubhouse in February, before saying that a further announcement would be made in the coming months, Elon Musk said: “You can’t see where the implant is and he’s a happy monkey.”

The billionaire told people on the call that an inspector from the US Department of Agriculture described the company’s laboratory as “the nicest monkey facility” they had ever examined.

“We went the extra mile for the monkeys,” Mr Musk said.

“One of the things we’re trying to figure out is whether we can have the monkeys playing mind Pong with each other? That would be pretty cool.”

The tiny implant the company has developed has more than 3,000 electrodes, attached to flexible threads measuring about a tenth of the size of a hair, capable of monitoring about 1,000 neurons.

The ultimate aim is to create a brain-computer interface, and it is being trialled in order to treat people with brain and spinal injuries.

Neuralink unveils pig with computer chip in brain. Pic: Neuralink
Image: Neuralink unveils pig with computer chip in brain. Pic: Neuralink

Neuralink’s head surgeon, Dr Matthew MacDougall, said the first trials would focus on patients with paralysis or paraplegia, although he has not provided a date for when these trials would start.

According to the company, the technology could contribute to finding a cure for neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, dementia and spinal cord injuries.

Mr Musk said last year that the implantable device could “actually solve these problems”, also mentioning memory loss, hearing loss, depression and insomnia.

Some of the more conceptual ideas touted by Mr Musk are not yet considered feasible by scientists, including a kind of “save state” in the brain.

“So if you were to die your state could be returned in the form of another human body or a robot body,” he said. “You could decide if you want to be a robot or a person or whatever.”

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