Billionaire Elon Musk has announced that his company Neuralink is seeking approval to test his brain implants on humans soon.
In a graphic presentation that went live Wednesday night, Musk said his team is in the process of applying to US regulators to allow them to test the device. He added that he believes his company should be able to place the implant in a human brain as part of its clinical trials in about six months, though the dates are uncertain.
Neuralink is one of several groups working to connect minds to computers, with the goal of helping treat brain disorders, recovering from brain injuries, and other applications.
The field of study dates back to the 1960s, said Rajesh Rao, co-director of the Center for Neurotechnology at the University of Washington. “But it really took off in the ’90s. And recently we’ve seen a lot of progress, particularly in brain-computer communication.”
Rao, who watched Musk’s presentation online, said he doesn’t think Neuralink is outperforming its competitors when it comes to developments in brain-computer interfaces. “But they are very advanced in terms of the hardware in the hardware,” he said.
The Neuralink device is about the size of a large coin and is designed to be implanted in the skull, with very thin wires connecting directly to the brain. Musk said the first two applications in humans would be to restore vision and help people who have little or no ability to quickly work their muscles to use digital devices.
He said he also envisions that in people with a broken neck, brain signals could be linked through Neuralink devices in the spinal cord.
“We are confident that there are no physical limitations to enable full body functionality,” said Musk, who recently acquired Twitter and is CEO of Tesla and SpaceX.
In experiments by other teams, implanted sensors allowed paralyzed people to use nerve signals to operate computers and move robotic arms. In a study published in the journal PLOS ONE in 2018, three participants with paralysis from the neck down affecting all their limbs used an experimental brain-computer interface from the BrainGate Consortium. The interface records neural activity captured by a small sensor in the brain so you can use emails and apps.
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