IIt’s been six years since Neuralink, Tesla, SpaceX (and now Twitter) CEO Elon Musk’s brain control interfaces (BCI) startup. It’s been three years since the company first demonstrated its “sewing machine-like” implant robot, two years since the company attached its technology to the heads of pigs, and just 19 months since it did the same to primates. It killed 15 out of 23 test 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’ll probably be able to install Neuralink in a human in about six months.”
Neuralink saw mixed times in its previous status update in April 2021: Company co-founder Max Hodak quietly quit shortly after that event, though he said he was still “hugely excited” for Neuralink’s success. That show of confidence was later undermined last August when Musk pitched Neuralink’s arch-rival Synchron as an investment opportunity.
In early February, Neuralink confirmed that monkeys had died during prototype tests of BCI implants at the University of California, Davis Primate Center, but denied accusations of animal cruelty by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Musk indirectly responded to the accusations on Wednesday.
“Before we even consider putting a device in an animal, we do everything we can with rigorous bench testing, we’re not enthusiastic about putting these devices in animals,” he said. “We’re very careful and always want the device to be confirmatory, not exploratory, whether we’re implanting it in a sheep or a pig or a monkey.”
Synchron brought Neuralink to market in July when doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York successfully implanted the company’s one-and-a-half-inch-long device in a man living with ALS. A patient who has lost the ability to move and communicate independently must be able to surf the web and send text messages using a device to convert their thoughts into computer commands. That same month, Musk’s affair with a Neuralink executive who was pregnant with his twins was also revealed.
Neuralink is still working on getting FDA approval for its implant, though the company was awarded the agency’s “Large Device Designation” in July 2020. This program gives patients and caregivers more “just-in-time access” to promising treatments and medical devices by fast-tracking their progress and adjustments. test. As of September 2022, the FDA has granted this designation to 728 medical devices.
The FDA also updated its 2021 best practice guidance on clinical and non-clinical BCI testing. “The field of implanted BCI devices is advancing rapidly from fundamental neuroscience discoveries to translational applications and market access,” the agency affirms in its May guidance. “Implanted BCI devices have the potential to benefit people with severe disabilities by increasing their ability to interact with their environment and ultimately provide new independence in everyday 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. The device relies on 1,024, 5-micron-diameter leads “sewn” into the patient’s gray matter to communicate with surrounding neurons, provides high-precision sampling of the brain’s electrical emissions, and translates between analog electrical impulses and digital computer code. . In theory, at least. So far, all Neuralink has achieved is getting a monkey to play Pong without a joystick.
“We’re all kind of cyborgs now because your phone and your computer are extensions of you,” Musk quipped during his keynote speech. However, it places significant limitations on our ability to communicate with these devices. “If you’re communicating on the phone, it’s limited to the speed you can move your thumbs or the speed you can talk on your phone.” He notes that this method can only transfer “tens, maybe a hundred” bits of data per second, whereas “a computer can communicate at, you know, gigabits, terabits per second.”
“That’s the key limitation that I think we need to address to reduce the long-term risk of AI,” he says confidently.
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