Elon Musk’s Neuralink received approval last week from the US Food and Drug Administration to conduct human clinical trials, which one former FDA official called “really a big deal.” I do not disagree, but I am skeptical that this technology will “change everything.” Not every profound technological advance has broad social and economic implications.
With Neuralink’s device, a robot surgically inserts a device into the brain that can then decode some brain activity and connect the brain signals to computers and other machines. A person paralyzed from the neck down, for example, could use the interface to manipulate her physical environment, as well as to write and communicate.
This would indeed be a breakthrough — for people with paralysis or traumatic brain injuries. For others, I am not so sure. For purposes of argument, as there are many companies working in this space, assume this technology works as advertised. Who exactly will want to use it?
One fear is that the brain-machine connections will be expensive and that only the wealthy will be able to afford them. These people will become a new class of “super-thinkers,” lording over us with their superior intellects.
I do not think that this scenario is likely. If I were offered $100 million for a permanent brain-computer connection, I would not accept it, if only because of fear of side effects and possible neurological damage. And I would want to know for sure that the nexus of control goes from me to the computer, not vice versa.
Besides, there are other ways of augmenting my intelligence with computers, most notably the recent AI innovations. It is true that I can think faster than I can speak or type, but — I’m just not in that much of a hurry. I would rather learn how to type on my phone as fast as a teenager does.
A related vision of direct brain-computer interface is that computers will be able to rapidly inject useful knowledge into our brains. Imagine going to bed, turning on your brain device, and waking up knowing Chinese. Sounds amazing — yet if that were possible, so would all sorts of other scenarios, not all of them benign, where a computer can alter or control our brains.
I also view this scenario as remote — unlike using your brain to manipulate objects, it seems true science fiction. Current technologies read brain signals but do not control them.
Another vision for this technology is that the owners of computers will want to “rent out” the powers of human brains, much the way companies rent out space today in the cloud. Software programs are not good at some skills, such as identifying unacceptable speech or images. In this scenario, the connected brains come largely from low-wage laborers, just as both social media companies and OpenAI have used low-wage labor in Kenya to grade the quality of output or to help make content decisions.
Those investments may be good for raising the wages of those people. Many observers may object, however, that a new and more insidious class distinction will have been created — between those who have to hook up to machines to make a living, and those who do not.
Might there be scenarios where higher-wage workers wish to be hooked up to the machine? Wouldn’t it be helpful for a spy or a corporate negotiator to receive computer intelligence in real-time while making decisions? Would professional sports allow such brain-computer interfaces? They might be useful in telling a baseball player when to swing and when not to.
The more I ponder these options, the more skeptical I become about large-scale uses of brain-computer interfaces for the non-disabled. Artificial intelligence has been progressing at an amazing pace, and it doesn’t require any intrusion into our bodies, much less our brains. There are always earplugs and some future version of Google Glass.
The main advantage of the direct brain-computer interface seems to be speed. But extreme speed is important in only a limited class of circumstances, many of them competitions and zero-sum endeavors, such as sports and games.
Of course, companies such as Neuralink may prove me wrong. But for the moment I am keeping my bets on artificial intelligence and large language models, which sit a comfortable few inches away from me as I write this.
© 2023 Bloomberg LP
Aditya L1 Solar Mission Begins Studying Energetic Particles in Solar Wind
After India’s solar mission, Aditya L1 began its journey towards Lagrange point 1 following a key manoeuvre, it has started studying energetic particles in the solar wind from space and will continue to do so for the rest of its life, a senior astrophysicist said. The study of the solar wind, the continuous flow of charged particles from the sun which permeates the solar system, will be carried out with the help of a device named Supra Thermal & Energetic Particle Spectrometer (STEPS), a part of the Aditya Solar wind Particle Experiment (ASPEX) payload.
“STEPS is now working from space. However, it was not sitting idle earlier. It has started functioning from within the magnetic field of the Earth since September 10 when Aditya was 52,000 kilometres above our planet,” Dr Dibyendu Chakrabarty, professor of Space and Atmospheric Sciences at the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) said.
STEPS was developed by the PRL with support from the Space Application Centre (SAC) in Ahmedabad.
“During the travel time of four months (till Aditya L1 reaches its destination), it will study energetic particles in the solar wind. The data will help maintain the health and performance of our space assets in a better way,” Dr Chakrabarty told PTI.
The key aim of STEPS is to study the environment of energetic particles from the spacecraft’s position on the L1 point till it will function, he said. “The data from STEPS in the long term will also help us understand how space weather changes,” the space scientist said.
STEPS comprises six sensors, each observing in different directions and measuring supra-thermal and energetic ions. The data collected during the Earth’s orbits helps scientists to analyse the behaviour of particles surrounding the planet, especially in the presence of its magnetic field.
Aditya-L1, launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on September 2, will go up to the First Lagrangian point, about 1.5 million km from the Earth ISRO on September 18 said on X: “Off to Sun-Earth L1 point! The Trans-Lagrangean Point 1 Insertion (TL1I) manoeuvre is performed successfully. The spacecraft is now on a trajectory that will take it to the Sun-Earth L1 point.” Lagrangian points are where gravitational forces, acting between two objects, balance each other in such a way that the spacecraft can ‘hover’ for a longer period of time.
The L1 point is considered the most significant of the Lagrangian points, for solar observations, which were discovered by mathematician Joseph Louis Lagrange.
Elon Musk’s Neuralink Receives Approval to Start Brain Implant Human Trial
Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk‘s brain-chip startup Neuralink said on Tuesday it has received approval from an independent review board to begin recruitment for the first human trial of its brain implant for paralysis patients.
Those with paralysis due to cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis may qualify for the study, it said but did not reveal how many participants would be enrolled in the trial, which will take about six years to complete.
The study will use a robot to surgically place a brain-computer interface (BCI) implant in a region of the brain that controls the intention to move, Neuralink said, adding that its initial goal is to enable people to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts alone.
The company, which had earlier hoped to receive approval to implant its device in 10 patients, was negotiating a lower number of patients with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after the agency raised safety concerns, according to current and former employees. It is not known how many patients the FDA ultimately approved.
Musk has grand ambitions for Neuralink, saying it would facilitate speedy surgical insertions of its chip devices to treat conditions like obesity, autism, depression and schizophrenia.
In May, the company said it had received clearance from the FDA for its first-in-human clinical trial when it was already under federal scrutiny for its handling of animal testing.
Even if the BCI device proves to be safe for human use, it would still potentially take more than a decade for the startup to secure commercial use clearance for it, according to experts.
© Thomson Reuters 2023
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
ISRO’s Aditya-L1 Performs TL1I Manoeuvre, Set to Reach Sun-Earth L1 Point
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced on Tuesday that its maiden solar mission — Aditya-L1 — has performed the Trans-Lagrangean Point 1 Insertion (TL1I) manoeuvre successfully and the spacecraft was now in a trajectory that will take it to the Sun-Earth L1 point. ISRO also informed that it marked the fifth consecutive time that the ISRO had successfully transferred an object on a trajectory toward another celestial body or location in space.
A post on the ISRO official handle on social media platform X read, “Aditya-L1 Mission | Off to Sun-Earth L1 point | The Trans-Lagrangean Point 1 Insertion (TL1I) manoeuvre is performed successfully. The spacecraft is now on a trajectory that will take it to the Sun-Earth L1 point. It will be injected into an orbit around L1 through a manoeuvre after about 110 days. This is the fifth consecutive time ISRO has successfully transferred an object on a trajectory toward another celestial body or location in space.”
Earlier, a launcher carrying the Aditya-L1 spacecraft blasted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Station at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. The primary objectives of India’s maiden solar mission include collecting scientific data and marking another milestone in India’s solar exploration efforts.
The agency had earlier posted on X, “Aditya-L1 Mission: Aditya-L1 has commenced collecting scientific data. The sensors of the STEPS instrument have begun measuring supra-thermal and energetic ions and electrons at distances greater than 50,000 km from Earth. This data helps scientists analyze the behaviour of particles surrounding Earth. The figure displays variations in the energetic particle environment, collected by one of the units.”
The Supra Thermal and Energetic Particle Spectrometer (STEPS) instrument, a part of the Aditya Solar Wind Particle Experiment (ASPEX) payload, also started its data-gathering operations earlier.
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