The Neuralink logo displayed on a phone screen, a silhouette of a paper in the shape of a human face, and a binary code displayed on a screen can be seen in this multiple exposure illustrative photo taken on April 10, 2017.
Jakub Porzycki | Nurphoto | Getty Images
Elon Musk’s health-tech venture Neuralink shared updates on its brain implant technology during a “Show and Tell” recruitment event Wednesday night. Musk said during the event that he plans to get one of the implants himself.
Musk said two of the company’s applications will aim to restore vision, even for people born blind, and a third application will focus on the motor cortex and restore “whole-body functionality” for people with severed spinal cords. “We are confident that there are no physical limitations to restore full body functionality,” Musk said.
Neuralink could begin testing the motor cortex technology in humans as early as six months, Musk said.
“Obviously we want to be extremely careful and sure that it works well before we put a device in a human, but we will, I believe, file most of our paperwork with the FDA,” he said.
Musk also said he plans to get one for himself. “You could have a Neuralink device implanted right now and you wouldn’t even know it. I mean, hypothetically… In fact, I’m going to do that in one of these demos,” he said. He repeated this on Twitter after the event.
Because none of Neuralink’s devices have been tested on humans or approved by the FDA, Wednesday’s announcements warrant skepticism, said Xing Chen, an assistant professor in the department of ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
“Neuralink is a company [that] doesn’t have to respond to shareholders,” she told CNBC. “I don’t know how much oversight there is, but I think it’s very important that the public always remember that before anything is approved by the FDA, or any state regulator, all claims must be examined very, very skeptically will.”
Neuralink was founded in 2016 by Musk and a group of other scientists and engineers. It aims to develop brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs, that connect the human brain to computers capable of decoding neural signals.
Musk invested tens of millions of his personal fortune in the company and said without evidence that Neuralink’s devices enable “superhuman cognition,” could enable paralyzed people to one day operate smartphones or robotic limbs with their minds, and “solve” autism and schizophrenia. . .
The company’s presentation on Wednesday reflected those lofty ambitions, with Musk claiming that “wonderful as it sounds, we’re confident it’s possible to restore full bodily function to someone with a severed spinal cord.”
Musk showed footage of a monkey with a computer chip in its skull playing “telepathic video games,” which Neuralink first introduced over a year ago. The billionaire who is also the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, and Twitter’s new owner, said at the time that he wanted to implant Neuralink chips in people with spinal cord injury and spinal cord injuries so they could “control a computer mouse, their phone, or really any device just by thinking.” “
Neuralink has come under fire for its alleged treatment of monkeys, and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine on Wednesday asked Musk to release details about experiments on monkeys that resulted in internal bleeding, paralysis, chronic infections, seizures, deteriorating mental health and had led to death.
Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison
Neuralink’s flashy presentations are unusual for medical device companies, said Anna Wexler, assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. She said it’s risky to encourage people with severe disabilities to get their hopes up, especially when they could potentially sustain injuries if the technology is implanted during surgery.
Wexler encouraged people to don their “skeptic hat” over Neuralink’s big claims.
“From an ethical point of view, I find this hype very worrying,” she said. “Space or Twitter, it’s one thing, but when you get into the medical context, there’s more at stake.”
Chen, who specializes in BCIs, said Neuralink’s implants would require patients to undergo a very invasive procedure. Doctors would have to drill a hole in the skull to insert the device into the brain tissue.
Still, she thinks some people would be willing to take the risk.
“There are some conditions like epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and obsessive-compulsive disorder that people have had brain implants for and the conditions have been treated quite successfully, allowing them an improved quality of life,” Chen said. “So I feel like there’s precedent for that.”
Wexler said she believes the decision will ultimately come down to an individual patient’s personal risk-benefit analysis.
Neuralink isn’t the only company trying to innovate using BCIs, and many have made great strides in the last few years. Blackrock Neurotech is on track to launch a BCI system next year, which would be the first commercially available BCI in history. Synchron received FDA approval in 2021 to begin a clinical trial for a permanently implanted BCI, and Paradromics is reportedly preparing to begin human testing in 2023.