Elon Musk's Neuralink empowers monkey to play Pong with its mind

(Image credit: Netflix)

It might sound like something straight out of Planet of the Apes, but Elon Musk’s Neuralink project has successfully allowed a monkey to play video games by using its mind to power the controls.

Back in February, Musk claimed that the Neuralink project had succeeded in allowing a monkey to play games using its brain power. It sounded a bit crazy, but now, video footage of the experiment has been posted to Neuralink’s YouTube channel, and features a 9-year-old macaque named Pager playing games via Neuralink’s tech that has been implanted on either side of his brain.

First, Pager operates a game via joystick where his objective is to move a cursor over the highlighted square on a grid. He’s rewarded with a sip of banana smoothie each time he moves the cursor correctly. Next, and more fascinatingly, Pager plays a game of Pong using nothing but his mind. 

Monkeying around

So how does it work, exactly? It turns out that Neuralink is able to track Pager’s brain activity by analyzing data from his neurons, the nerve cells in charge of sending motor signals to the muscles. By tracking the data from the joystick-based cursor game, Pager is then able to move the Pong paddle by simply thinking of how he would move the joystick if one were present.

As the speed of the Pong game increased, Pager showed no signs of panic, and proved to be an extremely adept player even with no traditional controller present. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing apes in major esports tournaments, then? A chimp chucking Hadoukens using just its mind sounds like something straight out of a half-baked sci-fi movie, but surprisingly, the Neuralink test has shown that could be a reality with its successful results with Pager.

We need to address the elephant in the room, though, that being the often cruel treatment of animals at product testing facilities. However, Musk has insisted that Pager was “not uncomfortable” during the test. He also stressed in a Clubhouse interview that a US Department of Agriculture representative responded positively to Neuralink’s testing facilities.

Neuralink claims that the technology used here with Pager will eventually be intended for human use. In a blog post (link), the company stated: “We intend to use the Link to help improve the lives of those with neurological disorders and disabilities in other ways. For example, for people with paralysis the Link could also potentially be used to restore physical mobility.”

Rhys Wood
Hardware Editor

Rhys is TRG's Hardware Editor, and has been part of the TechRadar team for more than two years. Particularly passionate about high-quality third-party controllers and headsets, as well as the latest and greatest in fight sticks and VR, Rhys strives to provide easy-to-read, informative coverage on gaming hardware of all kinds. As for the games themselves, Rhys is especially keen on fighting and racing games, as well as soulslikes and RPGs.