Because Neuralink has an Italian “father” (Guglielmo Marconi) and will have to deal with the “connectome” – WWN

Because Neuralink has an Italian “father” (Guglielmo Marconi) and will have to deal with the “connectome” – WWN

Of Cesare Peccarisi

Telepathy, the device created by Elon Musk’s company, uses the transmission of remote signals via electromagnetic means which Marconi exploited to invent the radio. Now he will have to overcome the problem of the correctness of the connections with the nervous network

When on the morning of March 28, 1895 Guglielmo Marconi he greeted with a leap of joy the rifle shot fired by his assistant to signal the arrival of the first radio message in history beyond the Emilian hills of Pontecchio, he could not imagine that a century later that idea of ​​his, after having revolutionized the modern era, it could also have given back to the actor Christopher Reeve the hope of returning to fly in the sky of the Superman films that made him famous or ad Ambrogio Fogar that of sailing the seas of the world again with his boat.

A new type of transmission

It’s a shame that both of them, confined to wheelchairs for a long time, didn’t live long enough to know that another radio message managed to overcome an obstacle that until now was much more insurmountable than the hills surrounding Sasso Marconi: the microscopic space that opens up to divide the edges of a vertebra with the nerve fibers who crossed it, after a fracture from the vertebral column.

Billionaire Elon Musk announced that this is now possible and has accustomed us to feats halfway between madness and genius: after extensive studies on animals he obtained authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to conduct the first human tests with microchip robotically implanted at the brain and spinal level which would solve neurological problems such as traumatic injuries of the spinal column by reading through 1,024 electrodes the activity celebrated to send the right impulses through 24 microfilaments even where they were no longer able to reach, which is why the device was given the name of Telepathy.

The true pioneers

The first patient just treated with this device named after Neuralink from the company founded for this purpose by Musk seems to be doing well, but to be honest the real pioneers of this method were the researchers ofPurdue Veterinary University in Indianapolis who in 2000 had developed a device called oscillograph extramedullary which stimulated with electromagnetic microimpulses similar to radio waves the neurons remained beyond the vertebral fracture, inducing them to regenerate and reconnect with those remaining on the other side, partially resolving the paralysis which at the time of the injury had left them behind like a carriage detached from the moving train. The study was also resumed in humans by researchers fromIndiana University School of Medicinebut the preliminary results, presented at the Neuroscience Conference in New Orleans in 2012, without the push of Elon Musk’s powerful media machine, did not have the same resonance as Neuralink.

Telepathy, the predecessors

Even the adjective telepathy would actually refer to another device developed by researchers atHahnemann School of Medicine of Philadelphia and the Duke University of North Carolina who in 2012 were the first to manage to make the water dispenser of a cage work simply when the housed mice thought they were thirsty. The electro-telepathic miracle was achieved by a man radio link via web between the microelectrodes connected to the brain neurons of mice and a computer responsible for opening the water dispenser.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Two years ago other German researchers fromUniversity of Tübingencreated a similar brain/computer radio bridge in a patient with amyotrophic lateral sclerosisthe neurodegenerative disease that progressively deprives patients of all movement, including speech and from which the famous physicist also suffered Stephen William Hawking. They thus managed to make their patient recover Hans-Peter Salzmann the ability to write small sentences on the bright screen of the computer, giving him back the possibility of communicating with the world again. After months of practice he composed a 400 character message in three hours and his first words were: I want a curry potato soup.

The Italian Neuralink

Few know that even in Italy she was born two years ago in Genoa a start-up of the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) that is called Cortical and which has nothing to envy of Elon Musk’s Neuralink: We spoke with them and verified how the neural interfaces developed at IIT allow us to “listen” to the brain in a much more refined way. says neuroelectronic bioengineer Luca Berdondini, head of the Microtechnology for Neuroelectronics team at IIT and consultant to Corticale. We have in fact developed SiNAPS technologyacronym for Simultaneous Neural Recording Active Pixel Sensor technology that amplifies and cleans the impulses that are so stronger and purer, continues.

The implantable devices we create have thousands of neural sensors as thick as a hair with which it is possible to study the normal functioning and pathologies of the nervous system to develop bio-electronic medical devices for the diagnosis and therapy of diseases such as epilepsy, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson. Added to this is the creation of human-machine neural interfaces of the latest generation for the control of electronic or robotic devices such as prosthetic limbs or exoskeletons with which to give patients back the ability to move as before. The project will ensure that SiNAPS benefits as many patients as possible. Within the next three years, an all-Italian portfolio of new technologies will be ready which will be at the center of instrumentation for diagnosis, monitoring and therapy in the field of neuroscience of the near future.


A problem that both the Genoese researchers and Elon Musk himself will have to face the correctness of the connections of their devices with the so-called connectome – says the president of the Italian Society of Neurology, Alessandro Padovani of the University of Brescia – that is, the set of mainly structural but also functional connections of the nervous system. Inside this system you can imagine how an infinite nervous internet network there are connectomic subsystems which are minor functional networks and these are more influenced by the continuous fluctuations induced by both internal and external distracting factors, but also by decline in vigilance linked to aging, variable from subject to subject even in the same age group and in overlapping subjects.

Motor patterns have a static component which is intrinsic in the structural connections of their connectome and a dynamic functional component which varies from moment to moment depending on the unconscious or voluntary attention we dedicate to it. The dynamic component is triggered on the basic static connectome and if this is not stable enough even a minimal dynamic component can cause attention to collapse for the movement to be done, as happens, for example, to the driver who uses his cell phone behind the wheel. We do not yet know how much the interference of neural devices such as Neuralink or SiNAPS will affect the human connectome and it will still take time to understand exactly how to best use them.

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February 1, 2024 (modified February 1, 2024 | 2:52 pm)

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