Even if Elon Musk is currently drilling his heads with Twitter tirades, it will be his company Neuralink that actually wants to do this in six months. Musk recently presented the benefits of that.
Neuralink is one of the smaller companies in Elon Musk’s portfolio. Since 2016, the comparatively small start-up with around 100 employees has set itself the goal of inventing a kind of smart device that will work directly on the human brain. This so-called “brain-computer interface” is intended to facilitate the treatment of serious diseases, enable mind control of computers and, in the long term, ensure that people are able “to combat potentially dangerous uses of artificial intelligence,” as Musk once explained.
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At a conference, the US billionaire recently presented the current state of research in just under three hours. Probably the most important news for the young company: According to Musk, “most of the documents” for the approval of clinical studies have now been submitted to the American drug agency FDA. If everything goes according to plan, the first tests on humans will begin in six months and the Neuralink device will be implanted for the first time.
First of all, they want to tackle and ultimately solve two problems. First, the implant should enable people with physical disabilities to use computers and smartphones without barriers. According to the company, the entries should be made by thought and make manual operation superfluous.
Second, Neuralink wants to enable blind people to see again. Musk explained that ideally, this should also work for people who were born blind and have never been able to see.
A monkey orders fruit
As a demonstration of how computers could be operated, the company showed a monkey. In the video, the animal equipped with the implant sits in front of a computer, calls up an on-screen keyboard and – apparently by mind control – types together a meaningful sentence using a word building block. “He likes doing it,” Musk assures. It wasn’t until February that the company faced widespread criticism when reports surfaced that many animals had died (read more here).
Perhaps that is why Neuralink released a video about the current status of care and the condition of the test animals shortly after the conference.
Neuralink also devoted a large part of the presentation to the operation and the actual device. Musk explains that the implant effectively replaces part of the skull plate and is no longer visible once it has healed. With Neuralink, the connection to the brain is made by a robotic arm, which wires the implant in the head like a sewing machine. Neuralink needs these cables to stimulate the brain and receive signals. External researchers describe this technology as great progress, because the intervention cannot be performed manually.
prototypes for decades
This kind of progress is also needed to make “brain-computer interfaces” suitable for the masses. The idea and the first prototypes of such implants have been around for decades, but so far none have managed to get beyond more or less successful studies.
The schedule, which Neuralink has often had to postpone, shows that this is obviously not easy either. Musk already announced in 2019 that he wanted to obtain official approval by the end of 2020, and in 2021 it was said that studies on humans would finally start in the same year. So the plan to start work in a few months may not come true again.
Musk himself remains confident that his small company will make a breakthrough. “One day,” Musk said, “I’m going to be here on stage and have an implant like that.”