Elon Musk’s company Neuralink aims to create “the future of brain-computer interfaces”. Its ambition is to solve debilitating brain and central nervous system ailment in the short-term, and invent new technologies to expand humans’ abilities in the long-term. After testing a brain chip on a monkey last year – enabling it to play a computer game on its own – Elon Musk unveiled last Wednesday that his company is to start human clinical trials.
The first test on humans was initially planned in 2020, and then Musk announced last year that he hoped to achieve it this year. Neuralink’s plans are then running behind schedule as the first brain chip human clinical trials will be apparently organized in about 6 months, after submitting it to the FDA (aka the US Food and Drug Administration). “We want to be extremely careful and certain that it will work well before putting a device in a human”, Musk highlighted.
“We are all already cyborgs in a way; your computer, your phone, are extensions of yourself. […] Leaving your phone behind is like a missing limb at this point” – Elon Musk
As explained in his presentation, Neuralink has been working on multiple and various types of testing to confirm that the device is stable and secure – being for animals or human beings. Musk also stated that the first trial on the monkey was followed with similar tests on six other monkeys after some chip upgrades, “to ensure that things are stable and replicable, and that the device lasts for a long time without degradation”.
After playing demos of monkeys controlling a cursor and a keyboard with their mind, Musk assured that quadriplegic or tetraplegic people could for instance rely on it. The Neuralink brain chip could also help solve brain or even spine injury issues: “we’re confident that it is possible to restore full body functionality to someone who has a severed spinal cord”. Musk further added that the chip could restore vision “even if someone has never had vision ever”.
This chip appears to be full of promises in terms of medical outcomes and advances. This is nevertheless nothing new, as Synchron for instance announced its first human U.S. brain-computer interface implant last July. Besides, Reuters has recently revealed that Neuralink is responsible for 1000+ unnecessary animal deaths, whereas Musk said the contrary during his presentation, ensuring that monkeys – and other test animals – are well-treated and “enjoy doing the demos because they get the banana smoothie and it’s kind of a fun game”.
This means that, for now, Neuralink is under federal investigation for potential animal-welfare violations following complaints from its employees. This matter might jeopardize the brain chip trials on humans, and its future potential launch on the market.