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Neuralink video shows monkey mind-controlling Pong — watch this

Neuralink monkey playing Pong
(Image credit: Neuralink)

A monkey implemented with Elon Musk's Neuralink technology has been trained to play Pong using only its brain — and there's a video to prove it.

In what will undoubtedly be either the coolest or scariest thing you'll see all day (most likely both), Pager, a nine-year-old macaque, is shown controlling the classic bat-and-ball game simply by thinking about it. And not only does the technology appear to work, but it even seems to improve Pager's performance as he's playing.

The three-minute video explains that Pager had two Neuralink devices implanted, one on either side of his brain, six weeks before the film was shot; patches of hair can be seen growing back on his head.

Pager is initially shown controlling an on-screen cursor using a joystick and receiving a banana smoothie as a reward when he hits the right square. The video's unnamed narrator explains that by mapping the neurons that fired as Pager moved the joystick, they were able to use a decoder algorithm to predict the monkey's intended hand movements, based on the data recorded by the Neuralink devices.

The team then disconnected the joystick, but Pager was able to continue controlling the cursor, this time using only his brain. 

Next, the joystick was removed entirely and Pager was shown playing Pong using his mind alone — a game that the Neuralink team have now dubbed "MindPong."

Musk, who founded Neuralink with Max Hodak five years ago, said back in 2019 that a monkey had been able to control a computer using a Neuralink N1 implant; he's also demonstrated the technology in pigs. But this is the clearest proof yet that it actually works.

The Tesla boss intends the sci-fi tech to be used to help paralyzed people, and tweeted earlier today that the first version "will enable someone with paralysis to use a smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs." Later models, he claimed, will enable "paraplegics to walk again."

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Whether Neuralink is as successful as Musk predicts remains to be seen, but the monkey video is certainly impressive. Nor is it too far from previous similar experiments: in 2015, a paralyzed man used a brain implant and a robotic arm to drink beer, and as long ago as 2006, another paralyzed man was able to play Pong with only his mind and an implant. 

Marc McLaren

As U.K. Editor in Chief on Tom’s Guide, Marc is responsible for the site’s U.K.-focused output as well as overseeing all gaming, streaming, audio, TV, entertainment and cameras coverage. He previously edited the tech website Stuff and also spent years on a music magazine, where his duties mainly involved spoiling other people’s fun. An avid photographer, Marc likes nothing better than taking pictures of very small things (bugs, his daughters) or very big things (distant galaxies).