Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and now Twitter, stated at a show-and-tell that his brain-computer interface startup, Neuralink, might implant one of its devices in someone’s brain within the next six months, and one of its first targeted applications is restoring vision.
Musk stated during the presentation that the business had already sent the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees medical devices in the US, the majority of the paperwork required for a human clinical trial. In the past, Musk had expressed his desire for human testing to start in 2020 and continue into 2022. That has now been delayed until at least 2023.
Three years have passed since the company first demonstrated its “sewing machine-like” implant robot, two years since it implanted technology into the heads of pigs, and just over 19 months since it implanted technology into primates, an effort that allegedly resulted in the deaths of 15 of 23 test subjects. Last year, Neuralink released a video of a monkey using its brain to play Pong.
The Neuralink devices are compact and have several flexible “threads” that can be placed into the brain. “It’s like replacing a piece of your skull with a smartwatch, for lack of a better analogy,” Musk said.
According to Musk, the first two human applications targeted by the Neuralink gadget will be restoring vision and facilitating muscle movement in people who are unable to do so. “Even if someone has never had vision, ever, like they were born blind, we believe we can still restore vision,” he said.
Current and former workers claim that Neuralink has routinely missed internal deadlines to obtain FDA approval to begin human studies. Musk approached competitor Synchron about a potential investment early this year after expressing irritation to Neuralink staff about their delayed development, according to Reuters in August. Synchron reached a significant milestone in July when it implanted its device for the first time in a patient in the United States. It got regulatory approval for human trials in the United States in 2021 and has completed studies in four people in Australia.