Elon Musk’s brain-computer interface company Neuralink says it has received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to launch its first-in-human clinical study. If this is true, it means that actual humans could be getting a device from Neuralink implanted in their heads.
The news follows Elon Musk’s November claim that Neuralink was about six months away from its first human trial — which suggests it’s the rare Musk promise that’s actually coming true on time.
The announcement of a future human trial isn’t nearly as much of a milestone as the results of that trial. But this isn’t just any trial. This represents Elon Musk, of all people, getting to attach a device to a human brain.
And it makes us wonder: who would sign up for such a thing, and why? Will it be someone who might have an important medical reason or someone who wants to draw the world’s attention at Musk’s side, and is there any chance it’s Elon Musk himself?
Musk has claimed he will get the device implanted in his own head at some unspecified time in the future. Meanwhile, Neuralink has been accused of abusing its monkey test subjects, a claim the company denies, and is under investigation for allegedly transporting contaminated devices removed from monkeys.
The FDA rejected an early 2022 Neuralink application for human trials, as reported by Reuters, apparently outlining “dozens of issues” the company needed to address.
According to the Washington Post, Founded in 2016, Neuralink is privately held with operations in Fremont, Calif., and a sprawling, under-construction campus outside of Austin. The company has more than 400 employees and has raised at least $363 million, according to data provider PitchBook.
With Musk’s backing, Neuralink has brought extraordinary resources — and investor attention — to a field known as brain-computer interface, where scientists and engineers are developing electronic implants that would decode brain activity and communicate it to computers.
Such technology, which has been in the works for decades, has the potential to restore function to people with paralysis and debilitating conditions like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Already, companies like Blackrock Neurotech and Synchron have implanted their devices in people for clinical trials, and at least 42 people globally have had brain-computer implants.
Such devices have enabled feats that once belonged to the realm of science fiction: a paralyzed man fist-bumping Barack Obama with a robotic hand; a patient with ALS typing by thinking about keystrokes; a tetraplegic patient managing to walk with a slow but natural stride.
While most companies seeking to commercialize brain implants are focused on those with medical needs, Neuralink has even bigger ambitions: creating a device that not only restores human function but enhances it. “We want to surpass able-bodied human performance with our technology,” Neuralink tweeted in April.