Musk co-founded Neuralink in 2016 with the goal of creating a wireless brain-machine interface, which scientists hope may help cure neurological diseases and allow people with paralysis to control a computer mouse.
In July 2019, Neuralink unveiled a design that involved implanting tiny electrode “wires” into the brain as well as another device behind the ear. The new Musk device described on Friday is much smaller, does not require the visible ear device, and would be implanted into the brain by a surgical robot under local anesthesia.
The device is removable, Musk said, and it showed another pig, Dorothy, who he said had had one of the devices implanted and then removed. “What Dorothy illustrates is that you can put the Neuralink on, take it off, and be healthy, happy and indistinguishable from a normal pig.”
While most of the short-term practical applications of wireless brain-machine interfaces are medical, Musk also expressed the wish that such devices could help human intelligence compete with artificial intelligence, which he sees as a “Existential threat”. At Friday’s event, the entrepreneur made a number of outrageous claims about the technology’s potential capabilities, including that it could be used to summon a Tesla, play video games, or enable a person having a severed spinal cord to walk again.
Musk has not presented any scientific data to back up his claims about pigs or devices.
Neuralink has raised more than $ 150 million in funding, including $ 100 million from Musk himself. The company employs around 100 people, but could soon grow to 10,000, Musk said at the event.
Musk also said Neuralink was granted breakthrough device designation from the FDA in July, a program that can help speed up the process of regulating products “that allow more effective treatment or diagnosis of life-threatening diseases or conditions. or irreversibly debilitating ”. Such designation does not mean that the device is FDA approved.
Neuroscientists say that while Neuralink’s mission to read and stimulate brain activity in humans is achievable, the company’s timeline looks too ambitious.
“Anyone in the field would be very impressed if they showed data from a device implanted into a human,” said Graeme Moffat, a neuroscience researcher at the University of Toronto.
Small devices that electronically stimulate nerves and areas of the brain to treat hearing loss and Parkinson’s disease have been implanted in humans for decades.
Neuroscientists have also conducted brain implant trials with a small number of people who have lost control of bodily functions due to spinal cord injury or neurological disorders such as stroke. Humans in these trials could control robotic limbs or small objects, such as a computer keyboard or mouse cursor, but have yet to accomplish more sophisticated tasks.
Most of the current cutting edge research on the brain-machine interface is conducted in animals, the scientists note, with safety concerns and lengthy regulatory approval procedures preventing larger human trials.
Notably, Musk, who has been a frequent source of disinformation about the coronavirus in recent months and has fought to keep his factories open during the pandemic, did not wear a face mask during his presentation, although he did found in a room with dozens of employees, a camera crew and veterinary personnel. He finally put on a mask during a question and answer session.