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Elon Musk is one step closer to connecting a computer to your brain

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Elon Musk standing with arms crossed in front of a SpaceX capsule.Elon Musk, pictured at a SpaceX event in 2019, counts the neuroscience startup Neuralink as one of his many future-forward endeavors. | Yichuan Cao/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Neuralink has demonstrated a prototype of its brain-machine interface that currently works in pigs.

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At a Friday event, Elon Musk revealed more details about his mysterious neuroscience company Neuralink and its plans to connect computers to human brains. While the development of this futuristic-sounding tech is still in its early stages, the presentation is expected to demonstrate the second version of a small, robotic device that inserts tiny electrode threads through the skull and into the brain. Musk said ahead of the event he would “show neurons firing in real-time. The matrix in the matrix.”

And he did just that. At the event, Musk showed off several pigs that had prototypes of the neural links implanted in their head, and machinery that was tracking those pigs’ brain activity in real time. The billionaire also announced that the Food and Drug Administration had awarded the company a breakthrough device authorization, which can help expedite research on a medical device.

Like building underground car tunnels and sending private rockets to Mars, this Musk-backed endeavor is incredibly ambitious, but Neuralink builds on years of research into brain-machine interfaces. A brain-machine interface is technology that allows for a device, like a computer, to interact and communicate with a brain. Neuralink, in particular, aims to build an incredibly powerful brain-machine interface, a device with the power to handle lots of data that can be inserted in a relatively simple surgery. Its short-term goal is to build a device that can help people with specific health conditions.

The actual status of Neuralink’s research has been somewhat murky, and Friday’s big announcement happened as ex-employees complain of internal chaos at the company. Musk has already said the project allowed a monkey to control a computer device with its mind, and as the New York Times reported in 2019, Neuralink had demonstrated a system with 1,500 electrodes connected to a lab rat. Since then, Musk has hinted at the company’s progress (at times on Twitter), though those involved have generally been close-lipped about the status of the research.

Musk opened Friday’s event by emphasizing the wide variety of spinal and neurological conditions — including seizures, paralysis, brain damage, and depression — that Neuralink technology could help treat.

“These can all be solved with an implantable neural link,” said Musk. “The neurons are like wiring, and you kind of need an electronic thing to solve an electronic problem.”

But it’s worth highlighting that Musk wants Neuralink to do far more than treat specific health conditions. He sees the technology as an opportunity to build a widely available brain-computer interface for consumers, which he thinks could help humans keep pace with increasingly powerful artificial intelligence.

So while modest, Neuralink’s research already foreshadows how this technology could one day change life as we know it. At the same time, it’s a reminder that the potential, eventual merging of humans with computers is destined to introduce a wide range of ethical and social questions that we should probably start thinking about now.

Neuralink wants to link your brain with computers, but that will take a while

Founded in 2016, Neuralink is a neuroscience technology company focused on building systems with super-thin threads that carry electrodes. When implanted into a brain, these threads would form a high-capacity channel for a computer to communicate with the brain, a system supposed to be much more powerful than the existing brain-machine interfaces being researched.

One major barrier to inserting these incredibly tiny wires, which are thinner than a strand of human hair, is actually getting them past the skull and into the brain. That’s why Neuralink is also developing an incredibly small robot that connects the electrode to humans through surgery that’s about as intensive as a Lasik eye procedure. On Friday, Musk outlined how the company hopes the do the procedure without general anesthesia in a single-day hospital stay. That’s the goal at least, and it would represent a huge leap forward from previous brain-machine interfaces, which required more invasive surgeries.

“We’ve been connecting forms of computers to brains for 20 or 30 years already,” Nolan Williams, the director of Stanford’s Brain Stimulation Lab, told Recode, referencing deep stimulation used for patients with Parkinson’s as one example of connecting a brain and a computer.

“The brain itself uses certain frequencies and certain kinds of electrical thresholding to communicate with itself,” Williams explained. “Your brain is a series of circuits that kind of intercommunicate and communicate between themselves.”

 Screenshot from Youtube
A screenshot of the demo shows how a prototype can track the neural spikes of a pig that’s had the device implanted.

Essentially, a brain-machine interface can use the electricity the brain already uses to function along with a series of electrodes to connect the brain with a machine. Neuralink cites previous examples in which humans have used electrodes to control cursors and robotic limbs with their minds as the basis for its system. But what’s novel about Neuralink’s plan is making the process of connecting a device with the brain minimal, while also massively increasing the number of electrodes engaged. The company wants to make brain-machine interfaces not only easier to install but also more powerful.

 Afshin Mehin
This prototype is designed to manipulate the tiny, surgical robot.

As the focus of Friday’s event, Musk showed what the second generation of what that robot will look like: a large white structure with five degrees of freedom.

“The robot is a super complicated, highly-precise machine which is able to both capture your brain and then with almost a sewing machine-like, micro-precise needle and thread place the neural threads in the exact right location based on the surgeon decisions around what the safe locations are for the threads to be inserted,” Afshin Mehin, a designer and founder of the firm Woke, which worked on its outer device that holds the needle, told Recode.

Musk further explained that, in the past year, Neuralink simplified its plans for wearable device that connects to the threads implanted in the user’s brain. While the first generation of this device would have been installed behind a person’s ear, the newest version is a small, coin-size device that would sit under the top of their skull.

“It’s kind of like a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires,” explained Musk, who compared the device to a smart watch.

The research is still in early stages and, as it advances, will likely require focusing on how the technology can help people with specific, severe health conditions first, according to Stanford neurosurgery professor Maheen Adamson. While the medical applications of such technology could be wide-ranging, moving it from its current, nascent state will require the close oversight of the Food and Drug Administration, which would not comment specifically on Neuralink.

Again, Neuralink’s ultimate plans will go beyond treating specific conditions. The company has said it hopes to allow people to “preserve and enhance” their brains and to “create a well-aligned future.” While that might not sound like a particularly pressing need to the average person, the project fits into Musk’s long-standing concerns about artificial intelligence. Musk has previously said the technology could be more dangerous than nuclear weapons, and warned that AI could become too powerful, too quickly, preventing humans from keeping it in check.

The ultimate goal for Neuralink, Musk explained at a 2019 launch event, is a “full brain-machine interface” that will achieve a “symbiosis with artificial intelligence.” But again, that is still far off.

Brain-machine interfaces are nothing new, but they raise ethical concerns

Neuralink and Musk are not the only ones interested in brain-machine interfaces. Facebook, for instance, is hard at work on its own brain-machine interface research with the University of California San Francisco. The company has its eye on creating a “hands-free” way of communicating with computers and has shared some very preliminary results. Last year, Facebook purchased CTRL-Labs, a startup that developed technology that measures neuron activity through a wearable worn on the arm, in order to control digital activity.

Then there’s ongoing medical research, which is more common than you might think.

“This is something that is done today,” Steven Chase, of Carnegie Mellon’s Neuroscience Institute, told Recode. “There are clinical trials ongoing right now where quadriplegic patients have electrodes implanted in their brains, and they use those electrodes and the neural activity recorded on those electrodes to control external devices, such as cursors on computer screens or robotic arms.”

In fact, some of the first medical research into such technology came in the second half of the 20th century, and to some extent, brain-machine interfaces currently exist with limited capabilities. The 1980s saw the invention of both deep brain stimulation and what’s called transcranial magnetic stimulation, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, uses “magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain,” which can be used to treat patients with depression.

In the early 2000s came BrainGate, an experimental device that uses an array of electrodes to essentially translate the desire to move limbs from the brain to a device, which is still being researched. The FDA in 2013 approved a system called the RNS Simulator that fires small electrical signals into the brain to stop seizures in some patients with epilepsy.

Already, there are some rudimentary commercial devices that do things one could loosely compare to what a brain-machine interface does. There are headbands that claim to use EEGs to measure your brain activity and then use that data to do anything from enhancing meditation to piloting a drone. These applications are far from the technology Neuralink aims to provide, but they may hint at what our future could look like: Two years ago, DARPA used an experimental brain-computer interface, a surgical microchip, that allowed a paralyzed person to navigate simulated aircraft.

“The idea of sort of sending complex thoughts wirelessly around the world is far, far, far away beyond our lifetime,” said Tim Marler, a senior research engineer at RAND. “This is definitely not science fiction. It will be mature and practical and commercial eventually, but there’s a lot of work to be done still.”

There is a huge technical divide between what’s currently possible in today’s research laboratories and the concept Musk envisions, which requires devices that can handle a significant amount of information going in and out of the brain. One broader hope for brain-machine-interface technology is that it could ultimately help people with paralysis to complete daily tasks on their own. As Chase, from Carnegie Mellon, explained, “The biggest thing these patients want is independence; this technology has the potential to offer them that.”

“As we go deeper into this project, we’re asking ourselves: what is it going to be like to have a thought based interface? Are you gonna have to think in a different way to send and receive ideas?” remarked Mehin, the designer. “Are you gonna have to train your brain to think a certain way? What’s it gonna be like to receive information?”

But in addition to the technological challenges, the development of brain-machine interfaces also ventures into uncharted ethical and legal territory. On Thursday, the government-funded think tank RAND issued a report on the need for policies around the use of brain-machine interfaces within the military context, where the technology could introduce new concerns like widespread hacking. Of course, with devices that can essentially strip data out of your own mind — including about peoples’ psychological and emotional states — the privacy implications of brain-machine interfaces are also enormous.

“If brain-reading devices have the ability to read the content of thoughts, in the years to come governments will be interested in using this tech for interrogations and investigations,” neuroscience-focused researcher Marcello Ienca told Vox last year.

The list of challenges goes on. Chase raises another concerning scenario: a world in which this technology is only available to the wealthy, creating an extreme technological divide. And then there are the unanticipated health risks of, you know, surgically inserting computer hardware into human brains.

While there’s no reason to worry too much about that right now, Neuralink’s next big announcement is a sign that the idea of connecting human brains to computers on a more regular basis is quickly becoming a reality.

Update 7:00pm ET: This piece has been updated with details shared at Friday’s demo.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.


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All the products we found to be the best during our testing this year

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(CNN) —  

Throughout the year, CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.

Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.

So, as we enter peak gifting season, if you’re on the hunt for the perfect gift, we know you’ll find something on this list that they (or you!) will absolutely love.

Coffee

Best burr coffee grinder: Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder With Digital Timer Display ($249; amazon.com or walmart.com)

Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder
Baratza Virtuoso+ Conical Burr Grinder

Beginner baristas and coffee connoisseurs alike will be pleased with the Baratza Virtuoso+, a conical burr grinder with 40 settings for grind size, from super fine (espresso) to super coarse (French press). The best coffee grinder we tested, this sleek look and simple, intuitive controls, including a digital timer, allow for a consistent grind every time — as well as optimal convenience.

Read more from our testing of coffee grinders here.

Best drip coffee maker: Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker ($79.95; amazon.com)

Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker
Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker

During our testing of drip coffee makers, we found the Braun KF6050WH BrewSense Drip Coffee Maker made a consistently delicious, hot cup of coffee, brewed efficiently and cleanly, from sleek, relatively compact hardware that is turnkey to operate, and all for a reasonable price.

Read more from our testing of drip coffee makers here.

Best single-serve coffee maker: Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus ($165; originally $179.95; amazon.com)

Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus
Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus

Among all single-serve coffee makers we tested, the Breville-Nespresso VertuoPlus, which uses pods that deliver both espresso and “regular” coffee, could simply not be beat for its convenience. Intuitive and a snap to use right out of the box, it looks sleek on the counter, contains a detached 60-ounce water reservoir so you don’t have to refill it with each use and delivers perfectly hot, delicious coffee with a simple tap of a lever and press of a button.

Read more from our testing of single-serve coffee makers here.

Best coffee subscription: Blue Bottle (starting at $11 per shipment; bluebottlecoffee.com)

Blue Bottle coffee subscription
Blue Bottle coffee subscription

Blue Bottle’s coffee subscription won us over with its balance of variety, customizability and, most importantly, taste. We sampled both the single-origin and blend assortments and loved the flavor of nearly every single cup we made. The flavors are complex and bold but unmistakably delicious. Beyond its coffee, Blue Bottle’s subscription is simple and easy to use, with tons of options to tailor to your caffeine needs.

Read more from our testing of coffee subscriptions here.

Best cold brewer coffee maker: Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot ($25; amazon.com)

Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot
Hario Mizudashi Cold Brew Coffeepot

This sleek, sophisticated and streamlined carafe produces 1 liter (about 4 1/4 cups) of rich, robust brew in just eight hours. It was among the simplest to assemble, it executed an exemplary brew in about the shortest time span, and it looked snazzy doing it. Plus, it rang up as the second-most affordable of our inventory.

Read more from our testing of cold brew makers here.

Kitchen essentials

Best nonstick pan: T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid ($39.97; amazon.com)

T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid
T-fal E76597 Ultimate Hard Anodized Nonstick Fry Pan With Lid

If you’re a minimalist and prefer to have just a single pan in your kitchen, you’d be set with the T-fal E76597. This pan’s depth gives it multipurpose functionality: It cooks standard frying-pan foods like eggs and meats, and its 2 1/2-inch sides are tall enough to prepare recipes you’d usually reserve for pots, like rices and stews. It’s a high-quality and affordable pan that outperformed some of the more expensive ones in our testing field.

Read more from our testing of nonstick pans here.

Best blender: Breville Super Q ($499.95; breville.com)

Breville Super Q
Breville Super Q

With 1,800 watts of motor power, the Breville Super Q features a slew of preset buttons, comes in multiple colors, includes key accessories and is touted for being quieter than other models. At $500, it does carry a steep price tag, but for those who can’t imagine a smoothie-less morning, what breaks down to about $1.30 a day over a year seems like a bargain.

Read more from our testing of blenders here.

Best knife set: Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set ($119.74; amazon.com)

Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set
Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set

The Chicago Cutlery Fusion 17-Piece Knife Block Set sets you up to easily take on almost any cutting job and is a heck of a steal at just $119.97. Not only did the core knives included (chef’s, paring, utility and serrated) perform admirably, but the set included a bevy of extras, including a full set of steak knives. We were blown away by their solid construction and reliable execution for such an incredible value. The knives stayed sharp through our multitude of tests, and we were big fans of the cushion-grip handles that kept them from slipping, as well as the classic look of the chestnut-stained wood block. If you’re looking for a complete knife set you’ll be proud of at a price that won’t put a dent in your savings account, this is the clear winner.

Read more from our testing of knife sets here.

Audio

Best true wireless earbuds: AirPods Pro ($199, originally $249; amazon.com)

Apple AirPods Pro
Apple AirPods Pro

Apple’s AirPods Pro hit all the marks. They deliver a wide soundstage, thanks to on-the-fly equalizing tech that produces playback that seemingly brings you inside the studio with the artist. They have the best noise-canceling ability of all the earbuds we tested, which, aside from stiff-arming distractions, creates a truly immersive experience. To sum it up, you’re getting a comfortable design, a wide soundstage, easy connectivity and long battery life.

Read more from our testing of true wireless earbuds here.

Best noise-canceling headphones: Sony WH-1000XM4 ($278, originally $349.99; amazon.com)

Sony WH-1000XM4
Sony WH-1000XM4

Not only do the WH-1000XM4s boast class-leading sound, but phenomenal noise-canceling ability. So much so that they ousted our former top overall pick, the Beats Solo Pros, in terms of ANC quality, as the over-ear XM4s better seal the ear from outside noise. Whether it was a noise from a dryer, loud neighbors down the hall or high-pitched sirens, the XM4s proved impenetrable. This is a feat that other headphones, notably the Solo Pros, could not compete with — which is to be expected considering their $348 price tag.

Read more from our testing of noise-canceling headphones here.

Best on-ear headphones: Beats Solo 3 ($119.95, originally $199.95; amazon.com)

Beats Solo 3
Beats Solo 3

The Beats Solo 3s are a phenomenal pair of on-ear headphones. Their sound quality was among the top of those we tested, pumping out particularly clear vocals and instrumentals alike. We enjoyed the control scheme too, taking the form of buttons in a circular configuration that blend seamlessly into the left ear cup design. They are also light, comfortable and are no slouch in the looks department — more than you’d expect given their reasonable $199.95 price tag.

Read more from our testing of on-ear headphones here.

Beauty

Best matte lipstick: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick ($11, originally $22; amazon.com or $22; nordstrom.com and stilacosmetics.com)

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick

The Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick has thousands of 5-star ratings across the internet, and it’s easy to see why. True to its name, this product clings to your lips for hours upon hours, burritos and messy breakfast sandwiches be damned. It’s also surprisingly moisturizing for such a superior stay-put formula, a combo that’s rare to come by.

Read more from our testing of matte lipsticks here.

Best everyday liquid liner: Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($22; stilacosmetics.com or macys.com)

Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner
Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner

The Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner is a longtime customer favorite — hence its nearly 7,500 5-star reviews on Sephora — and for good reason. We found it requires little to no effort to create a precise wing, the liner has superior staying power and it didn’t irritate those of us with sensitive skin after full days of wear. As an added bonus, it’s available in a whopping 12 shades.

Read more from our testing of liquid eyeliners here.

Work-from-home essentials

Best office chair: Steelcase Series 1 (starting at $381.60; amazon.com or $415, wayfair.com)

Steelcase Series 1
Steelcase Series 1

The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415, the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.

Read more from our testing of office chairs here.

Best ergonomic keyboard: Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; logitech.com)

Logitech Ergo K860
Logitech Ergo K860

We found the Logitech Ergo K860 to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic keyboards here.

Best ergonomic mouse: Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99; logitech.com)

Logitech MX Master 3
Logitech MX Master 3

The Logitech MX Master 3 is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.

Read more from our testing of ergonomic mice here.

Best ring light: Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light ($25.99; amazon.com)

Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light
Emart 10-Inch Selfie Ring Light

The Emart 10-Inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $35.40, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.

Read more from our testing of ring lights here.

Home

Best linen sheets: Parachute Linen Sheet Set (starting at $149; parachute.com)

Parachute Linen Sheets
Parachute Linen Sheets

Well made, luxurious to the touch and with the most versatile shopping options (six sizes, nine colors and the ability to order individual sheets), the linen sheets from Parachute were, by a narrow margin, our favorite set. From the satisfying unboxing to a sumptuous sleep, with a la carte availability, Parachute set the gold standard in linen luxury.

Read more from our testing of linen sheets here.

Best shower head: Kohler Forte Shower Head (starting at $74.44; amazon.com)

Kohler Forte Shower Head
Kohler Forte Shower Head

Hands down, the Kohler Forte Shower Head provides the best overall shower experience, offering three distinct settings. Backstory: Lots of shower heads out there feature myriad “settings” that, when tested, are pretty much indecipherable. The Forte’s three sprays, however, are each incredibly different and equally successful. There’s the drenching, full-coverage rain shower, the pulsating massage and the “silk spray” setting that is basically a super-dense mist. The Forte manages to achieve all of this while using only 1.75 gallons per minute (GPM), making it a great option for those looking to conserve water.

Read more from our testing of shower heads here.

Best humidifier: TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier (starting at $49.99; amazon.com)

TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier
TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier

The TaoTronics Cool Mist Humidifier ramped up the humidity in a room in about an hour, which was quicker than most of the options we tested. More importantly, though, it sustained those humidity levels over the longest period of time — 24 hours, to be exact. The levels were easy to check with the built-in reader (and we cross-checked that reading with an external reader to confirm accuracy). We also loved how easy this humidifier was to clean, and the nighttime mode for the LED reader eliminated any bright lights in the bedroom.

Read more from our testing of humidifiers here.

Video

Best TV: TCL 6-Series (starting at $579.99; bestbuy.com)

TCL 6-Series
TCL 6-Series

With models starting at $599.99 for a 55-inch, the TCL 6-Series might give you reverse sticker shock considering everything you get for that relatively small price tag. But can a 4K smart TV with so many specification standards really deliver a good picture for $500? The short answer: a resounding yes. The TCL 6-Series produces a vibrant picture with flexible customization options and handles both HDR and Dolby Vision, optimization standards that improve the content you’re watching by adding depth to details and expanding the color spectrum.

Read more from our testing of TVs here.

Best streaming device: Roku Ultra ($99.99; amazon.com)

Roku Ultra
Roku Ultra

Roku recently updated its Ultra streaming box and the 2020 version is faster, thanks to a new quad-core processor. The newest Ultra retains all of the features we loved and enjoyed about the 2019 model, like almost zero lag time between waking it up and streaming content, leading to a hiccup-free streaming experience. On top of that, the Roku Ultra can upscale content to deliver the best picture possible on your TV — even on older-model TVs that don’t offer the latest and greatest picture quality — and supports everything from HD to 4K.

Read more from our testing of streaming devices here.

Travel

Best carry-on luggage: Away Carry-On ($225; away.com)

Away Carry-On
Away Carry-On

The Away Carry-On scored high marks across all our tests and has the best combination of features for the average traveler. Compared with higher-end brands like Rimowa, which retail for hundreds more, you’re getting the same durable materials, an excellent internal compression system and eye-catching style. Add in smart charging capabilities and a lifetime warranty, and this was the bag to beat.

Read more from our testing of carry-on luggage here.

Best portable charger: Anker PowerCore 13000 (starting at $31.99; amazon.com)

Anker PowerCore 13000
Anker PowerCore 13000

The Anker PowerCore 13000 shone most was in terms of charging capacity. It boasts 13,000 mAh (maH is a measure of how much power a device puts out over time), which is enough to fully charge an iPhone 11 two and a half times. Plus, it has two fast-charging USB Type-A ports so you can juice a pair of devices simultaneously. While not at the peak in terms of charging capacity, at just $31.99, it’s a serious bargain for so many mAhs.

Read more from our testing of portable chargers here.

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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained

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Open Sourced logo

Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.
Twitter

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.
Facebook

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.


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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year

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From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.

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