Bloomberg reports that Neuralink, Elon Musk’s brain-computer interface firm, said at a Wednesday evening event at its headquarters that it plans to begin putting its coin-sized computing brain implant into human patients in six months. This news comes despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of America think slapping a computer chip inside the human brain is a terrible idea for society.
Musk said that Neuralink’s device, which has been refined over the past years, would be implanted into people using a robot that carves out a piece of their skull and attaches the device to their brain.
In addition to working on a brain-computer interface, Musk revealed that his company is working on spinal implants that might one day restore mobility to people with paralysis. He also revealed that his firm is working on an ocular implant to restore human vision or improve it. Despite the continued hype from Musk, recent reports show that Neuralink is a company in chaos.
Ongoing discussions with the US Food and Drug Administration have gone well enough for the company to set a target of its first human trials within the next six months, according to Musk.
Musk claims that an individual who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or a stroke may soon be able to communicate via their brain using a brain-computer interface (BCI). The Neuralink device would be able to detect neuronal activity and turn it into data that would be interpreted by a computer. Musk believes that the device could one day become mainstream and allow humans and computers to communicate with each other.
In typical fashion for an Elon Musk venture, Neuralink is already bounding ahead, aiming implants at other parts of the body. During the event, Musk revealed work on two major products in addition to the brain-computer interface. It’s developing implants that can go into the spinal cord and potentially restore movement in someone suffering from paralysis. And it has an ocular implant meant to improve or restore human vision.
“As miraculous as that may sound, we are confident that it is possible to restore full-body functionality to someone who has a severed spinal cord,” Musk said at the event.
The goal of the brain-computer interface, known as a BCI, is initially to allow a person with a debilitating condition — such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or the aftereffects of a stroke — to communicate via their thoughts. The Neuralink device would translate the neuronal activity into data that could be interpreted by a computer. Musk’s hope is that the device could one day become mainstream and allow for the transfer of information between humans and machines. Musk has long argued that humans can only keep up with the advances being made by artificial intelligence with the help of computer-like augmentations.
As has been the case with past Neuralink events, some of the things demonstrated by Musk and his team have already been accomplished in academic settings. The company’s critics have long accused Musk of overhyping Neuralink’s advances and over-promising what the technology will be able to do in the near future, if ever.
Brain-machine interface technology has been researched and advanced by academia for decades. Musk’s entry into the arena, however, has spurred a wave of investment from venture capitalists into startups and helped push the field forward at a much more rapid clip.
A couple of similar startups are ahead of Neuralink when it comes to human trials. Synchron Inc., for example, has been able to implant a small stent-like device into the brains of patients in Australia and the US. The product has made it possible for patients who were unable to move or speak to communicate wirelessly via computers and their thoughts. Onward Inc. has also done breakthrough work restoring some movement in people with spinal cord injuries.
The type of brain surgery proposed by Neuralink is far more invasive than that of Synchron or most other competitors in the industry. A patient must have a chunk of their skull removed and allow wires to be implanted into their brain tissue. Neuralink has been doing tests for years on primates to prove that the surgery is safe and that the implant can remain inside the brain for long periods of time without causing harm.
Musk’s company has already missed some of the billionaire’s ambitious timelines for placing the BCI implant in people. In meetings with his team over the past several months, Musk, being Musk, urged his engineers in blunt terms to work faster and harder. “We will all be dead before something useful happens,” Musk told his team during a recent product review meeting. “We need to step it up. We need to ship useful products.” During the same meeting, Musk expressed fear that advances in AI would outpace the work being done at Neuralink, rendering the company’s efforts worthless.
“You are so used to being a de-facto cyborg,” Musk said. “But if you’re interacting with your phone, you’re limited.”✪