Elon Musk’s Neuralink received approval to begin a six-year trial to study the effects of brain-computer interface (BCI). A specialized surgical robot will be used to implant the devices into participants’ brains. The company’s mission: “Create a generalized brain interface to restore autonomy to those with unmet medical needs today and unlock human potential tomorrow.” Participants in the first trial must have a disability such as blindness, quadriplegia, paraplegia, deafness, or major limb amputation. Permitting those with disabilities to live a normal life seems noble, but Musk has stated he dreams of expanding the Neuralink’s availability to everyone.
The non-human trials failed miserably, resulting in 1,500 dead animals since 2018. Some past employees have criticized Musk for rushing his research, but not illegal acts were committed as it is common, if not expected, for at least some animal test subjects to die. Numerous errors could have been avoided if not for human error, according to those familiar with the studies.
“The PRIME Study (short for Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface) – a groundbreaking investigational medical device trial for our fully-implantable, wireless brain-computer interface (BCI) – aims to evaluate the safety of our implant (N1) and surgical robot (R1) and assess the initial functionality of our BCI for enabling people with paralysis to control external devices with their thoughts,” Neuralink states on its website. It would be an unbelievable feat if this device gave someone the ability to walk or see for the first time. It would make all the testing worthwhile. Musk stated himself that the chip will work. “As miraculous as it may sound, we’re confident that it is possible to restore full body functionality to someone who has a severed spinal cord.”
However, Musk has loftier goals and said that the Neuralink will be for everyone. Musk stated that he personally plans to have a brain chip installed once available. Neralink is not beholden to shareholders as Musk owns the company outright. The company claims it will not sell data to third parties. However, Neuralink’s third-party affiliates, regulatory boards, and research partners will have access. Time will tell how this six-year trial goes, as I expect we will hear much more about the new technology once the trial begins.