A monkey with implants in his brain made by Elon Musk's company Neuralink is now able to play Pong using just his thoughts. And he's seriously good at it.
Elon Musk is the world's richest person, thanks to Tesla's phenomenal success. And his company SpaceX is both transporting NASA astronauts and making progress on its goal of colonizing Mars. So you could be forgiven for forgetting that Musk has a lot of other initiatives going on as well, and several other companies that he heads up. And Neuralink, his project to allow people to control devices through brain waves alone, is classic Musk.
Neuralink makes brain implants that it hopes can eventually be used to give people with quadriplegia the ability to control computers and other devices using only their minds. In the future, the company says, healthy people might do the same. Someday, this could conceivably eliminate the need for keyboards, speech-to-text, and thumb typing on phones.
The company just took a big step toward that future. It implanted two of its devices into the brain of a 9-year-old macaque named Pager and then taught him to move a computer cursor -- and to play Pong -- using a joystick. (Pager likes to play because when he gets things right, he's rewarded with banana smoothie delivered through a metal tube.)
As Pager played, the Neuralink devices recorded the signals in his brain that told his hand to move the joystick up, down, left, or right. The company's software learned to interpret those brain signals as movements, and then sent those movements directly to the computer, bypassing the joystick. Soon, Pager was able to move the cursor, and then play Pong, using just his brain. And he played really well. Despite the researchers speeding up the game to test his abilities, Pager only loses one point during the video, which is appropriately titled "Monkey MindPong."
By now, we've all gotten used to Musk taking concepts from science fiction and working to turn them into reality. It's one reason many people are so fascinated with him -- you may be dreaming big dreams in your company or career, but his are over-the-top huge. But then he backs up those big dreams with solid science and deep knowledge, much of it self-taught. And he uses that knowledge to expand our ideas about what is and isn't possible.
That's something many founders aspire to do, but very, very few ever get there. Controlling our devices and communicating with each other just by thinking it? That's just one more impossible thing that may turn out to be possible, because of Musk.