Elon Musk Expects Neuralink to Test Brain Implant in Humans Next Year
Two monkeys were apparently controlling computer cursors with their brains during a presentation displaying the Neuralink implant, which Elon Musk thinks will someday connect the human brain to a computer.
Others first documented the feat in a human in 2006, pre-YouTube and with far more onerous hardware, tying patients to a computer with a cord.
Mr. Musk’s presentation on Wednesday night added nothing appreciably to earlier demonstrations of the device. He went on to say that the implant could allow patients with paralysis to control computers outside of a lab setting. However, experts in the area questioned whether the presentation represented significant progress with the gadget, especially given the breadth of work being done across the country.
“These are incremental gains,” Daniel Yoshor, a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine who has experimented with similar devices, said after viewing the presentation. “While the hardware is remarkable, it does not represent a significant advancement in repairing or improving brain function.”
He went on to say that while Neuralink’s engineering effort is significant, the company’s results are not.
The device cannot be sold because the business has not received FDA approval. Mr. Musk stated on Wednesday that the business had filed the majority of its documentation to the regulator in order to obtain approval to implant its device in a human. He expected a human test in six months, but any move toward human trials would be up to the FDA after a thorough examination of the dangers of surgical implantation and the device’s safety.
Mr. Musk, a multibillionaire, originally scheduled the event for the end of October but postponed it during one of the most turbulent months of his career. He just finalized his on-again, off-again acquisition of Twitter, which has consumed much of his attention — and sparked some controversy — over the social media company’s management.
While Mr. Musk juggles that and other responsibilities — he now supervises Tesla and SpaceX — Neuralink is emerging from a time of transition. Max Hodak, the company’s president and one of its co-founders, quit last year to start his own enterprise in the industry. The formal CEO of Neuralink is Jared Birchall, a money manager who controls Mr. Musk’s family office.
Leaders in the field of brain-computer interface technology have been keeping a close eye on Neuralink’s investment in a device with no external cables or hardware. Nonetheless, many of them have been disturbed and underwhelmed by Mr. Musk’s presentations thus far.
A Neuralink presentation in 2021 of a monkey playing Pong with his mind was comparable to a primate demonstration at Brown University in 2001, although with a significantly clunkier setup.
Mr. Musk stated in a 2020 presentation featuring a pig with the implant that the technology could “solve” problems like as paralysis and insomnia, and may even provide a user with “superhuman eyesight.” To scientists who are only focused on returning basic functions, like as typing, speaking, or lifting a fork, to those who have lost them due to a spinal cord injury or a grim prognosis, such applications sound like science fiction. For such patients, the benefits outweigh the minor but substantial risk of brain surgery.
“No one is discussing implanting able-bodied people,” said Cindy Chestek, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan whose team is focusing on restoring function to amputees.
Mr. Musk stated on Wednesday night that ambitions for his technology include allowing the blind to see and providing “full-body functionality” to someone with a damaged spinal cord. The audience applauded, but the statements do not reflect the condition of the field.
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