“A monkey has been able to control a computer with his brain,” CEO Musk says of his startup’s brain-machine interface.
Neuralink plans to test its brain machine interface technology with four of its N1 chips installed under patients’ skin.
Elon Musk and top-level scientists from his neuroscience startup Neuralink Corp., who are developing a next-generation brain-computer interface, unveiled what they billed as a significant advance toward a therapeutic device Tuesday night.
The device would connect human brains and machines with more precision than other available devices, according to the company, which has been developing the technology for roughly two years.
Neuralink is putting together a submission to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to start testing the technology in humans. The goal is to use the platform to treat neurological conditions like movement disorders, spinal-cord injury and blindness.
“It’s not like suddenly Neuralink will have this neural lace and take over people’s brain,” said Mr. Musk. He also mentioned the announcement was meant to recruit talent to the company, which has about 100 employees.
The company said it is first focusing on patients with severe neurological conditions, but wants to make it safe enough to turn the implantation surgery into an elective procedure
On Tuesday evening, Neuralink, a company in which Musk has invested $100 million, was expected to detail the baby steps it has taken toward that goal. Neuralink planned to describe a “sewing machine-like” robot that can implant ultrathin threads deep into the brain.
The company claims the system will eventually be capable of reading and writing vast amounts of information. But as with many of Musk’s other ventures, like spaceships or futuristic tunnels, one of the biggest challenges may be for his scientists to match his grand vision.
Musk, the billionaire chief executive of the electric carmaker Tesla who has famously claimed that he “wants to die on Mars, just not on impact,” has a reputation for doing bold things, as well as making even bolder claims that stretch credulity.
Like artificial intelligence, the idea of inserting a device into the brain that would allow speedy communication between humans and computers veers quickly into science fantasy.
In his 1984 science-fiction novel “Neuromancer,” William Gibson posited the idea of something he called a “microsoft,” a small cartridge directly connected to the brain via a socket to provide a human user with instant knowledge, such as a new language.
In a briefing Monday, Neuralink executives acknowledged they had a “long way to go” before they could begin to offer a commercial service. But they were ready to discuss their work publicly. Musk was not at the meeting.
Neuralink’s technology is based around implanting electrodes into people’s brain tissue though ultra thin “threads”, which would be connected to chips and wires placed under the skin of the head.
Those chips would then be linked to a removable “pod”, which could sit behind the ear, and connect wirelessly with other devices.
This would allow information from the brain to be fed back directly to smartphones or computers, and would mean thoughts and emotions could be used to control those devices.
Elon Musk, who co-founded the business, says this could make it possible for people to communicate through their brains in future – essentially a telepathy.
It could also allow for brains to be stimulated by the chips itself, although the company said understanding these signals would take time for the brain. “It’s a long process. It’s like learning to touch type or play piano,” Neuralink president and co-founder Max Hodak said.
For now, the company’s focus is medical, though, and is on helping paralysed patients communicate through their smartphones and computers.
It is hoping to test on humans next year.