Neuralink, the brain-computer interface company owned by Elon Musk, has received FDA approval to start testing its brain implant device on human subjects. The company is aiming to enroll paralyzed patients first to see if the technology can enable them to control devices with their thoughts.
The breakthrough comes after Neuralink’s initial application was rejected last year over safety concerns. But the company has forged ahead with animal testing and now looks to make the leap to human trials.
Surgical Implant Reads Brain Activity
The Neuralink device involves surgically implanting an array of tiny electrodes into the brain that can read neural activity and transmit it wirelessly to external devices.
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A quarter-sized computer relays the brain signals in real time. To insert the implant, a small part of the skull is removed so wires can interface with the brain.
Initial Safety Concerns Addressed
While the implant aims to enable paralyzed patients to control devices hands-free, regulators had initial concerns about safety risks from the brain surgery and device integration.
After additional animal testing and refinements, Neuralink successfully demonstrated the implant’s viability, paving the way for trials in paralyzed human subjects.
Thousands Express Interest in Volunteering
Now that FDA approval is secured, Neuralink has been overwhelmed by prospective patients eager to volunteer for the trials.
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Thousands have reached out, far exceeding the number of planned surgeries. The massive response underscores public enthusiasm for the company’s brain-computer interface.
First Human Recipients to Have Paralysis
Neuralink is first seeking paralyzed participants unable to use their hands or arms. This allows clear demonstration of the technology’s potential to enable thought-controlled tasks.
If successful in paralyzed patients, the implant’s applications could eventually expand to treating other neurological conditions.
Accelerating Research With Animal Testing
Before human trials, Neuralink tested its device extensively on animals including pigs, sheep and monkeys.
Animal studies enabled rapid iteration, but some monkeys reportedly suffered complications from the invasive implant procedures. The trials sparked ethical debates.
Musk Pushes Aggressive Timeline
Despite early setbacks, Neuralink CEO Elon Musk is pushing an aggressive timeline for progressing to widespread human trials.
Internal documents revealed plans for surgeries to soar into the tens of thousands within several years. Musk is known for fast-paced technology development driven by lofty goals.
Brain Implants Aim to Merge AI and Humans
Beyond assisting paralysis, Musk’s larger vision is developing brain implant tech that symbiotically merges humans and artificial intelligence.
The ultimate aim is enabling concepts like downloading knowledge instantly and telepathically communicating thoughts with other implanted brains.
First Implants Would Have Limited Capabilities
While Musk’s goals are extremely ambitious, Neuralink’s first brain implants will focus on simpler capabilities for paralyzed patients.
If initial human trials succeed, more advanced features could follow that progressively work toward Musk’s vision of AI-enhanced cognition.
For now, just developing a safe and effective brain interface for paralyzed people would mark a major medical milestone. But Musk hopes to use that as a stepping stone toward much loftier aspirations.