Elon Musk said at a Show and Tell event on Wednesday that his brain-computer interface company, Neuralink, could implant one of its devices in someone’s head within the next six months — which means it’s not happening this year. He also claimed that he would have the device implanted in his own head at some point in the future.
During the presentation, Musk said the company has submitted most of the documentation needed for a human clinical trial to the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates medical devices in the United States. Musk previously said he was hoping for human trials to begin in 2020 and then 2022. Now that has been postponed to at least 2023.
Neuralink’s goal is to develop a device that can be implanted in the brain and use it to control a computer with brain activity. Musk announced back in 2019 that the company was testing his device on monkeys. In 2020, pigs with the implants were trotting. And last year, Neuralink released a video showing a monkey playing brain pong with it. This year the monkeys are back. In a video demonstration, one of them helped “type” the phrase “Welcome to show and tell” with her implant by focusing on highlighted words and letters. Another video showed the monkeys being trained to charge the devices by sitting under a wireless charger.
Later in the presentation, the Neuralink researchers also showed a pig on a treadmill, which they said will help them study how to address mobility issues in humans in the future.
The Neuralink devices themselves are small, with multiple flexible “threads” that can be inserted into the brain. “It’s like replacing a piece of your skull with a smartwatch, for lack of a better analogy,” Musk said.
In about 15 minutes, 64 of these “threads” can be implanted in the brain using a robotic system, DJ Seo, the vice president of Implant and co-founder of Neuralink, said during the presentation — while using a mannequin to demonstrate how the process works could work.
The reason for the robotic surgeons is because of how tiny these threads are. “Imagine taking a hair from your head and sticking it in jelly covered with cling film, doing it with a precise depth and precision, and doing it 64 times in a reasonable amount of time,” said Christine Odabashian, the director by Neuralinks hardware insertion team.
The company’s 2019 and 2020 demos were designed as recruitment events, and this one is no different; The company admitted that recruitment was the main goal of the evening. Neuralink is currently trying to fill many different types of jobs as it moves from “prototype to product,” Musk said on today’s Show and Tell.
The event consisted mainly of a technical presentation of the device, showing how the system was built, what challenges the team faced, how the technology has improved so far and what developments are coming next. Company researchers said they are developing treatments that could either help improve or restore vision, or restore movement in people with paralysis. On the tech side, the company has ambitions to ensure that the device itself can be easily upgraded.
“I’m pretty sure if an iPhone 14 was available, you wouldn’t want an iPhone 1 in your head,” Musk said.