Step one: Drill holes in the skull. Step two: Implant “threads” into the brain.
Neuralink, one of Musk’s secretive companies, revealed the advance at a San Francisco event Tuesday, giving the public its first real peek at what the startup’s been up to since its launch two years ago. Neuralink has also created a neurosurgical robot reminiscent of a sewing machine, which can embed the threads — each much thinner than a human hair — in the brain.
So far, the threads have only been tested in animals, but Musk said he hopes to start testing in humans “by the end of next year,” a timeline that seems unrealistically ambitious. He’ll need to get the green light from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration first, which promises to be a complicated feat: The current procedure for implanting the threads requires drilling holes in the skull.
If he succeeds in getting FDA approval, it’ll likely be because he’s pitching the advance as a technology meant to address a medical condition: paralysis. The idea is that the threads will read neuronal signals from a paralyzed patient’s brain and transmit that data to a machine — say, an iPhone — enabling the patient to control it without having to tap or type or swipe.
Neuralink’s trials so far have been conducted on rats, and, it seems, monkeys. In a telling moment during the Q&A portion of the event, Musk veered off-script, saying, “A monkey has been able to control the computer with its brain. Just FYI.” (We don’t yet have evidence to that effect.) Neuralink president Max Hodak’s response: “I didn’t realize we were running that result today, but there it goes.”
If this technology is functional in human patients — and we should always be careful not to extrapolate too much from early animal studies to humans, particularly when dealing with complex brain systems — it could significantly improve quality of life for millions of people. Approximately 5.4 million people are living with paralysis in the US alone, according to a Reeve Foundation study.
As if to underscore Neuralink’s medicinal ambitions, the company’s head surgeon, Matthew MacDougall, spoke onstage dressed in blue scrubs. He emphasized that Neuralink’s main concern is patient safety, adding that eventually the company wants its brain implant procedure to be as non-invasive as Lasik eye surgery. He also said it’s “only intended for patients with serious unmet medical diseases,” like people who’ve been completely paralyzed as the result of a spinal cord injury.
But helping people with paralysis is not, it seems, Musk’s end goal — the futurist made clear he has much grander ambitions. Ultimately, he said, he aims “to achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence.” The goal is to develop a technology that enables humans “merging with AI” so that we won’t be “left behind” as AI systems become more and more advanced.
This fantastical vision is not the sort of thing for which the FDA greenlights human trials. But a study on helping people with paralysis? That may get a warmer reception.
“If you were to come up with a compound right now that literally cures aging, you couldn’t get it approved,” Oliver Medvedik, a biohacking advocate who directs the Kanbar Center for Biomedical Engineering at Cooper Union, recently told me. “By the definition we’ve set up, aging isn’t a disease, and if you want to get it approved by the FDA you have to target a certain disease. That just seems very strange and antiquated and broken.”
Musk said that the event, which was live-streamed, was not about showing off. “The main reason for doing this presentation is recruiting,” he said. He wants more people to apply to Neuralink’s open positions. The company currently has about 90 employees and $158 million in funding, $100 million of which reportedly came from Musk himself.
But Hodak described the purpose of the presentation differently in an interview with the New York Times. “We want this burden of stealth mode off of us so that we can keep building and do things like normal people, such as publish papers,” he said. (The company recently released a white paper explaining its new technology.)
In other words, if Neuralink really has achieved what it says it’s achieved, this could be a major advance with promising applications for people down the road.
Just don’t expect those applications too soon: The company still has to prove that its system can work in human brains, and that the threads, once implanted, can survive in our brains for years without deteriorating — or causing our brains themselves to deteriorate.
The cast of Game of Thrones says farewell to the HBO blockbuster in Entertainment Weekly‘s new issue going behind the scenes of the final season’s end game.
The issue dives deep into the tragic downfall of Daenerys Targaryen with Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington, along with chats with Isaac Hempstead Wright about playing the new king of Westeros and Sophie Turner on becoming the Queen in the North. There are also 14 new photos from behind the scenes and the show itself.
Westeros: Game of thrones
“I will miss this so much,” says GoT star Peter Dinklage. “But it’s time to move on. A lot of shows stay on television for too long. You got to make room for the new thing. And no decision should ever be made just because something is making a lot of money. [Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] are smart enough, and HBO is smart enough, to not just go, ‘Well, everybody’s getting rich let’s keep going’ — that’s the worst thing you can do with something creative like this. I know it’s difficult to make that decision. This is the greatest role I’ve ever had.”
The younger cast members are ready to move on too, especially after spending most of their lives playing just one role. Like Jon Snow going beyond The Wall to start a new life with the Wildlings, Harington is ready for something new.
“The goal of acting is to gain some recognition and fame — that’s not what I’m looking for anymore,” Harington says. “This gives me the freedom to try things I want to do. I keep nicking beers from David and Dan’s fridge. I left them a note saying, ‘I owe you two beers and one career,’ and that’s how I feel.”
“This show is my life,” Clarke says. “Any doors that are open now, this show opened them. Any major life choice I’ve made have been a reaction to this show.”
Newly released video shows the moment an off-duty border agent in Arizona started a huge wildfire as part of a gender reveal celebration for his unborn baby.
The April 2017 Sawmill blaze destroyed 47,000 acres and took 800 firefighters to put out, at a cost of $8.2m.
Dennis Dickey, 37, and his wife Rita, planned to reveal the sex of their baby to friends and relatives by setting off an explosive device filled with coloured powder – blue to indicate a boy.
Dickey shot a target containing Tannerite, a legal, but very powerful explosive. The video shows the blast and the surrounding grass immediately catching fire, the ferocity of the blaze exacerbated by months of dry weather.
It quickly spread to the Coronado National Forest
Dickey immediately reported the fire and is said to have admitted starting it, saying it had been a “complete accident”.
Last month he pleaded guilty to starting a fire without a permit and was sentenced to five years probation, a $100,000 fine and $500 a month restitution for the next 20 years.
In the beginning, it was all about the shoes. In the early 1950s in Sophiatown, Johannesburg, the pantsulas defied their lean material circumstances by dressing in designer clothing. Influenced by American jazz music, they danced with a quick-stepping style, tapping the floor in a way that wouldn’t ruin their expensive footwear.
Sixty years on, pantsula (both the name of the dance and its surrounding culture) still thrives in townships across South Africa, but its character and style have morphed in line with the lives of the people who cultivated it. Only recently has pantsula broken into the mainstream dance world. You can see it in the show Via Kanana, created by the South African choreographer Gregory Maqoma and dancers from the Katlehong township, playing at Shoreditch Town Hall, east London, as part of Dance Umbrella.
Pantsula took its early influences predominantly from tap dance, with traces of jive, gumboot, tribal African dance and everyday gestures like dice-rolling. Its trademark is intricate, on-the-spot rhythmic footwork, where feet twist, shuffle and stamp. But those early pantsulas were as much about style as dancing. With a gangsterish attitude, fancy clothes, expensive liquor and women on their arms, “they’d be the people who were feared the most in the township,” says Maqoma.
Maqoma grew up in Soweto in the 70s and 80s in a conservative Christian household, and the pantsulas were seen as “the bad guys”, but he couldn’t help being intrigued. The groups he knew were named after their favoured labels – the Pierre Cardins, the Valentinos – but Maqoma was more interested in their moves. “I was always curious about their movement and the dance style, the sense of expression,” he says.
In the 70s, the townships were growing, and the gangs were competing for territory and status. But in parallel, the dance was becoming more competitive, and status could be won on the dancefloor, too. “The footwork became more sophisticated, more complex in its rhythms, and each group became known for its own innovative form of dancing,” says Maqoma.
In the 80s came influences from hip-hop and from television. As a boy, Maqoma was more inspired by Michael Jackson than pantsula, but he happened to live near a hostel for migrant workers who came from all over southern Africa and at the weekends would go and watch them dance their own traditional forms. All these things influenced the young Maqoma, and fed into pantsula dance culture as well.
“Pantsula reflected the changing landscape of the township itself,” says Maqoma, “and the fact that the township is made of people from different cultural backgrounds. You learn in your backyard when young people start putting steps together, it’s very much a collective form.”
These days you don’t have to go to a township to see pantsula, you can just search on YouTube, where you’ll find a resurgence of dance groups all taking pantsula in new directions. What’s most striking – aside from the ever-expanding variations in style, the crazy energy and speed, the pounding beats of kwaito house music – is that pantsula is an increasingly political form, reflecting the concerns of the young people who dance it.
You’ll find pantsula dancers campaigning against drink, drugs and violence – things that were all hallmarks of its early days. “It is evolving,” says Maqoma, who believes young people are “more socially aware of their environment and how they can contribute and respond to their circumstances. They’re surrounded by the social imbalances within their townships and they are part of the new post-apartheid struggle.”
Maqoma feels an urgency in the air that is perfectly captured by the relentless attack of pantsula. “It’s young people stepping up and creating a revolution in their own way,” he says. “Responding to what’s going on in the political sphere, in terms of corruption, the complex nature of land rights, the decay in just … humanity. And young people want to hold those in power accountable.”
The performance Maqoma has created is about corruption. “When we created the work we were still under the leadership of probably the most corrupt leader in our country, our ex-president Zuma.” It draws on the lives and concerns of the dancers of Via Katlehong. Maqoma remembers: “One of the guys said: ‘You know, my grandmother still lives in a shack, and I live in a shack, and it’s 24 years after apartheid: what has the fight really been for? Why are things still the same? Why are things worse?’”
Amid the problems and the protest, though, there is always time to dance. Maqoma now lives in north-east Johannesburg, but the life of the city is still in the townships, he says, and every weekend that’s where he goes. “It’s part of killing our own depression, to party, to make noise, to come together. It’s psychological therapy for our people. Dance and music is what we own and it gives us life.”
Although it originated in northern parts of Ghana, the rice-and-bean-based dish known as waakye is today consumed on a national level.
Whether it’s eaten for breakfast or lunch, this dish can be made as rich and as filling as one likes by adding an almost unending list of accompaniments. The most typical ones include fried plantains, the spaghetti-like talia, a black pepper sauce called shito, boiled eggs, avocados, a tomato-based soup which contains meat, and gari foto — a mashed sauce made with finely grated cassava. This versatile dish is a favorite street food and comes served on a large waakye leaf.
Preventing poor mental health in childhood and in later life needs a two-pronged approach.
Poor mental health among young people is on the rise in the UK, while access to support and treatment remains patchy. There is now a pressing need to build resilience in young people to minimise their risk of poor mental health later on, as our latest report argues.
There are 12.5m young people in England, and one in ten will experience poor mental health. Half of all lifelong mental health problems start before the age of 14, but only one in four young people uses mental health services. An extra 23,800 staff, at a cost of £1.77 billion, is needed so that every young person who needs mental health support can get it. In the short term, though, this is unrealistic.
To address this treatment gap, we need to invest in building young people’s resilience in order to minimise their risk of developing poor mental health in the first place. A recent study from Wales showed that people with high resilience in childhood are less than half as likely to develop a mental health condition, compared with those who have low resilience during childhood. The early years, before the age of 18, are the best time to build resilience as it provides lifelong mental health benefits.
Resilience is the ability to deal with life’s challenges and stresses in a healthy and positive way. This involves drawing on personal resources, such as the ability to manage anxiety and negative thoughts, as well as social resources, such as having positive relationships with family, friends and adults, including teachers.
Social and economic circumstances also affect a child’s ability to develop resilience. Children from low-income families are much more likely to experience poor mental health, compared with children from high-income families.
Preventing poor mental health in childhood and in later life needs a two-pronged approach. First, parents need support so they can provide a secure home for their children. Alongside this, parents, schools and youth organisations need to help children develop positive relationships and teach them how to deal with relationship problems and other difficulties in life.
Second, we need to minimise the risk to children’s mental health. These risks include all forms of abuse, poverty and other negative experiences during childhood, such as being bullied. Positive relationships with family members, friends, teachers and other adults can act as a buffer against these negative experiences.
Investing in prevention would save the government, the NHS, education, the criminal justice system and employers money in the long run, so investing in the resilience of children should be everybody’s business.
While there have been repeated calls for action over the past ten years, progress has been sluggish. Many areas lack a strategy, and investment in preventative activity is often short term.
Planning for a resilient generation requires public health to work with health, education, parents, young people and other partners. Together they need to identify the actions they can take for the whole population as well as for those groups that are particularly at risk. And they will need to prioritise what to invest in. There is good evidence for specific interventions that will improve mental health and deliver an early payback on the investment. For example, providing social and emotional learning in schools can achieve a saving of £5 for every £1 invested over a three-year period.
Local government also needs to take action to ensure that vulnerable families and young people have a secure income, housing and access to health, education and employment. This includes a concerted effort to reduce the harm caused by negative childhood experiences, such as abuse, and by focusing on young people who are particularly at risk of poor mental health, as is the case with young people who have been in care.
Even with a robust resilience programme, there will always be young people who experience poor mental health, so it’s still important to respond quickly to the first signs of distress. This has implications for all of us in knowing how to respond well and how to access the right support.
Mental health services for young people have long waiting lists and we need to develop accessible and friendly one-stop-shop services that can better meet their needs, such as the Australian organisation, Headspace, a national youth mental health service, designed with input from young people.
Building resilience, minimising risks to mental health and ensuring effective support is available has the potential to halve the number of children experiencing poor mental health within a generation. The benefits of this will be realised not only by young people and their families but also by wider society and the economy.
Investing in the resilience of young people is everybody’s business. It is time for the hand-wringing about the poor mental health of children and young people to stop and for action to be taken. A first step is for investment in the resilience of children and young people to be a clear priority for government and public services.