IIt’s been six years since Tesla, SpaceX (and now Twitter) CEO Elon Musk co-founded brain control interfaces (BCI) startup Neuralink. It’s been three years since the company first showcased its “sewing machine-like” implantation robot, two years since the company put its technology on pigs’ heads, and a little over 19 months since it’s allegedly done the same to primates. Killed 15 of 23 subjects. After a month-long delay in October, Neuralink held its third “show and tell” event on Wednesday, where CEO Elon Musk said, “We think we can deploy a Neuralink to a human, probably in about six months.”
Neuralink saw turbulent times in its previous April 2021 status update: Although the company’s co-founder Max Hodak said he was still a “huge cheerleader” for Neuralink’s success, he quietly quit shortly after. That show of confidence was shattered last August after it was reported that Musk was approaching Neuralink’s main competitor, Synchron, as an investment opportunity.
Earlier in February, Neuralink confirmed that the monkeys had died during prototype testing of BCI implants at the University of California, Davis Primate Center, but dismissed the animal cruelty accusations of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Musk indirectly responded to these accusations on Wednesday.
“We do everything we can with rigorous over-the-counter testing before we even consider implanting a device in an animal. We are not reckless in implanting these devices in animals,” he said. “We are extremely careful, and when we implant in a sheep, pig or monkey, we always want the device to be confirmatory rather than exploratory.”
In July, Synchron outpaced Neuralink in the market when doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York successfully fitted the company’s one-and-a-half-inch-long device to a person living with ALS. The patient, who has lost the ability to act independently and communicate, should be able to surf the Internet and send text messages using the device to translate their thoughts into computer commands. That same month, an affair that Musk had with a Neuralink executive, who is now pregnant with twins, also came to light.
Neuralink is still working towards FDA approval for its implant, but the company was awarded the agency’s Breakthrough Device Designation in July 2020. This program allows patients and caregivers to quickly track their progress and adjustments, providing more “timely access” to promising treatments and medical devices. testing. As of September 2022, the FDA has given this designation to 728 medical devices.
The FDA also updated its best practice guidance on clinical and non-clinical BCI testing in 2021. “The field of implanted BCI devices is rapidly advancing from basic neuroscience discoveries to translation applications and market access,” the agency said in its May guide. “Implanted BCI devices have the potential to benefit people with severe disabilities by increasing their ability to interact with their environment and, as a result, provide new independence in daily life.”
“In many ways it’s like a Fitbit with little wires in your skull,” Musk said of Neuralink’s device during the 2021 livestream event. The device relies on 1,024.5 micron-diameter tips “stitched” into the patient’s gray matter to create connections with surrounding neurons, providing high-resolution sampling of the brain’s electrical emissions and translating between analog electrical impulses and digital computer code. . At least theoretically. So far, all Neuralink has accomplished is getting a monkey to play Pong without a joystick.
“We’re all cyborgs in a way anyway,” Musk mocked in his keynote, “your phone and computer are extensions of you.” However, he argued that these devices place significant limitations on our ability to communicate. “If you’re interacting with a phone, you’re limited by the speed at which you can move your thumbs or talk to your phone.” He states that this method can only transmit “tens, maybe hundreds” bits of data per second, while “a computer can communicate at gigabits, terabits per second.”
“This is the main limitation that I think we need to address in order to reduce the long-term risk of AI,” he said convincingly.
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, regardless of our parent company. Some of our stories contain affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission. All prices are correct at the time of publication.