Elon Musk hopes humans will be testing Neuralink brain implants in the next six months
Elon Muss hosted the latest “show and tell” presentation of Neuralink last night. It focused on progress in the design and development of brain-computer interface implants that are affordable and highly effective for humans. Co-founded by Musk in 2016, Neuralink joined a crowded field of companies and medical organizations already making strides for years towards wireless human-computer interfaces. Musk expressed confidence Wednesday evening that human trials could begin within six months, subject to FDA approval. But the technology on display was once again met with skepticism from industry experts, who cited existing projects already meeting or surpassing some of Neuralink’s benchmarks.
Musk explained on stage that Neuralink’s initial two goals for humans will be restoring vision, even for those born congenitally blind, and connecting with the motor cortex for those with a “Stephen Hawking-type situation,” as Musk puts it, to do things like “control their phone better than someone who has working hands.” Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1962, and in later years communicated using a speech generating device controlled via augmented keyboard systems as his paralysis intensified.
Musk hopes that Neuralink devices will be able to connect the signal between brain & spinal cord with additional implantes. He is confident that there are no physical barriers to restoring complete body functionality. He also mentioned that Neuralink devices will be reversible and upgradeable. He compared the future process to the replacement of old iPhones. The current “N1” chip of the company is roughly the same size as a quarter. It is connected to the brain beneath the skin. The chip’s multitude wires are implanted by a robotic surgeon, each one no more than a few red blood cell. This then establishes communication with the brains of test subjects.
While Musk now has his eye on 2023 human trials, the Tesla, SpaceX, and now Twitter CEO has made similarly ambitious, ultimately unrealized timeline claims in the past–in 2019, he previously stated an aim to receive a regulatory green light by the end of 2020. Musk expressed the hope that Neuralink’s human trials could begin by this year HTML1. Critics within the fields of neuroscience, neurosurgery, and biomedical engineering have already described last night’s presentation as offering “incremental advances,” adding that audiences should be wary of any promises made before approval from the FDA or any other regulatory bodies.
Another theme of the night was not technology, but the people who are undergoing testing. Neuralink first debuted its early prototypes in rats during a 2019 demonstration. Since then, the company has moved on to additional interface developments for sheep, pigs, and macaque monkeys–experiments that drew scrutiny and criticism from activists after Musk confirmed in February that some monkeys have died during testing. Ahead of last night’s presentation, the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine urged Musk to release additional information on past tests which purportedly resulted in infections, seizures, internal bleeding, and paralysis in animals.
Musk repeatedly stressed the safety and comfortability of test animals and said that Neuralink is “not cavalier about placing devices into animals.”
” I don’t want it to be oversold this thing,” Musk stated at one point on stage.
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