Neuralinkthe company that is developing brain implants to create abrain-computer interface, is about to start i human test: the CEO Elon Musk announced that they will start in six months. The first applications should help paralysis patients regain some autonomy.
Neuralink, Elon Musk announces: the first human tests in six months
Taking a break from Twitter’s blue ticks and Tesla, Elon Musk was able to join Neuralink’s streaming event yesterday (Wednesday, November 30). The company was supposed to hold its own evento Show & Tell at the end of October, but he postponed the event until yesterday.
The company still seems a long way from the “fusing our brains with AI”, as Musk promised in 2019. But the CEO announced that he has filed the filings with the FDAwhich regulates the use of medical devices in the United States, to begin human trials of Neuralink within the next six months.
From monkeys, to pigs, to humans
In 2019, Neuralink announced that the company had begun testing some primates. In 2021 he had shown a video of a macaque using the device to play pong. Also this year there are the monkeysin a video demonstration showing one of them using brain implants to write the phrase “welcome to the show and tell” on a computer. uAnother video shows her charging her device by sitting under a wireless charger.
During the presentation, Neuralink also showed some other animals. In particular, a maiale su a treadmill. This test served to explain how they could help people with paralysis control their movements in the future.
Musk then revealed that the Neuralink devices are almost ready for human testing. Applications should be on the one hand the opportunity to help people with paralysis to use digital devices without using limbs. On the other side, they would like to experience how to enable people who have lost their sight to see through a digital interface. At the event, Neuralink showed it could stimulate a reaction in an animal brain similar to that of a beam of light hitting the retina.
Both applications are much more complex than seen with animals. But Neuralink seems confident of success.
Neuralink: a chip the size of a coin for the first human tests
To install the device in the brain, Neuralink showed the robot-surgeon it developed, capable of operating on gelatinous tissue similar to a brain. The robot inserts a coin-sized chip, connected to several “wires” that it inserts into the brain. THEn about 15 minutes, 64 of these threads they may be implants in a brain, according to co-founder DJ Seo.
Christine Odabashian, implants team leader at Neuralink, explains that the wires are so thin that only the robot can handle them. “Imagine taking hair from your head and sticking it into the jelly of a cake, doing it deeply and with precision. And then do it 64 times in a reasonable amount of time”. The kind of operation that only a robot can handle.
An expanding sector
The event, in addition to demonstrating the state of the art of this technology, aims above all to boost the recruitment of engineers and scientists. The field of brain-computer interfaces (BCI) has existed since the 1960s, but for the moment only a few dozen people have experimented with this type of interface on their brains. Human experimentation is still in its infancy.
The largest human test so far involves the “Utah array“, a rigid chip with 100 tiny needles: Neuralink’s device instead it has over a thousand electrodes. Experimenting with these devices could therefore bring real benefits to various people with physical disabilities.
But Neuralink isn’t the only company attempting this approach. Two recent startups were founded by former Neuralink executives: Science Corp by Max Hodax (former chairman) e Precision Neuroscience by Benjamin Rapoport (among the co-founders). And then there are companies like Synchron, which have already begun human testing that Neuralink wants to start in six months.
Musk’s company won’t be the first. But its position in sight will perhaps allow more people to discuss the implications of this technology with enormous potential.