Mark Zuckerberg has sold close to 30 million shares of Facebook to fund an ambitious biomedical-research project, called the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, with the alleged goal of curing all disease within a generation.
A less publicized component of the $5 billion program includes work on brain-machine interfaces, devices that essentially translate thoughts into commands. One recent project is a wireless brain implant that can record, stimulate, and disrupt the movement of a monkey in real time.
In a paper published in the top-notch scientific journal Nature on New Year’s Eve, researchers with a division of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative called the CZ Biohub detail a wireless brain device implanted in a primate that records, stimulates, and modifies its brain activity in real time, sensing a normal movement and stopping it immediately.
Scientists refer to the interference as “therapy” because it is designed to be used to treat diseases like epilepsy or Parkinson’s by stopping a seizure or other disruptive motion just as it starts.
“Our device is able to monitor the primate’s brain while it’s providing the therapy so you know exactly what’s happening,” Rikky Muller, a co-author of the new study and an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at UC Berkeley, told Business Insider.
The applications of brain-machine interfaces are far-reaching: while some researchers focus on using them to help assist people with spinal cord injuries or other illnesses that affect movement, others aim to see them transform how everyone interacts with laptops and smartphones. Both a division at Facebook formerly called Building 8 as well as an Elon Musk-founded company called Neuralink have said they are working on the latter.
Muller said her research at the Biohub is walled off from the other work on brain-computer interfaces being done at Facebook.
The company’s notoriously secretive Building 8 program underwent a recent re-shuffling that included killing off the Building 8 label and shifting its experimental projects to new divisions. Earlier this year, Business Insider exclusively reported that the program’s director had helped create an armband that transformed words into understandable vibrations.