Elon Musk's startup Neuralink says cleared for human test of brain implants
Musk stated during a start-up presentation in December that the goal of Neuralink implants is to allow human brains to interface directly with computers
Elon Musk’s startup Neuralink said on Thursday that it had received authorisation from US regulators to test its brain implants on humans.
Neuralink said authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its first-in-human clinical research is “an important first step” for its technology, which is meant to allow brains to communicate directly with computers.
“We are excited to share that we have received the FDA’s approval to launch our first-in-human clinical study,” Neuralink said in a post on Musk-run Twitter.
According to Neuralink, clinical trial recruitment is not yet open.
Musk stated during a start-up presentation in December that the goal of Neuralink implants is to allow human brains to interface directly with computers.
“We’ve been working hard to be ready for our first human (implant), and obviously we want to be extremely careful and certain that it will work well before putting a device in a human,” he said at the time.
Neuralink prototypes the size of a penny have been implanted in the skulls of monkeys, according to startup demos.
During a demonstration, Neuralink demonstrated many monkeys “playing” simple video games or manipulating a cursor on a screen via their Neuralink implant.
Pigs have also been used to test the technique.
An early presentation showed a surgical robot replacing a section of the skull with a Neuralink disc and selectively inserting its wispy wires into the brain.
According to Musk, the disc monitors nerve activity and transmits it through a conventional Bluetooth wireless signal to a device such as a smartphone.
“It actually fits quite nicely in your skull,” Musk said during a prior presentation.
“It could be under your hair and you wouldn’t know.”
Musk said the company would try to use the implants to restore vision and mobility in humans who had lost such abilities.
“We would initially enable someone who has almost no ability to operate their muscles… and enable them to operate their phone faster than someone who has working hands,” he said.
“As miraculous as it may sound, we are confident that it is possible to restore full body functionality to someone who has a severed spinal cord,” he said.
Beyond the potential to treat neurological diseases, Musk’s ultimate goal is to ensure that humans are not intellectually overwhelmed by artificial intelligence (AI), he said.
Other companies working on similar systems include Synchron, which announced in July that it had implanted the first human-brain-machine interface in the United States.
Members of the Neuralink team have shared a “wish list” that ranged from technology returning mobility to the paralyzed and sight to the blind, to enabling telepathy and the uploading of memories for later reference — or perhaps to be downloaded into replacement bodies.
Meanwhile, Musk recently established a business devoted to developing sophisticated AI. The boss of Tesla has also predicted that autonomous driving technology at the electric car maker is heading for a breakthrough.
Musk has contended that synching minds with machines are vital if people are going to avoid being so outpaced by AI that, under the best of circumstances, humans would be akin to “house cats.”
Experts and academics remain cautious about his vision of symbiotically merging minds with super-powered computing.
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