Elon Musk held a Show and Tell event dedicated to the development of his company Neuralink, which is trying to create a brain-computer interface and has already demonstrated the first developments of neuroimplants that were tested on monkeys and pigs. The company was even accused of animal cruelty, but Neuralink rejected accusation. In general, Musk planned that the first tests of neuroimplants on people will start as soon as this year, but now says that they have about 6 months left.
During the presentation, Musk said that the company has submitted most of the documents needed to conduct clinical trials on humans with the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates medical devices in the United States.
Neuralink aims to create a device that can be implanted in the brain and used to control a computer using brain activity. Already last year, Neuralink released a video in which a monkey plays pong with its brain.
This year the demonstration was expanded. In the video, one of the monkeys helped “type” the phrase “Welcome to Show and Tell” using its implant, by focusing on highlighted words and letters. Another video showed how monkeys learned to charge their neural implants by sitting under a wireless charger.
Later in the presentation, Neuralink researchers also demonstrated a pig on a treadmill, which they say is helping them study how to solve mobility problems in humans in the future.
The Neuralink devices themselves are small, with several 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 into the brain by a robotic system, DJ Seo, vice president of Implant and co-founder of Neuralink, said during the presentation, using a mannequin to demonstrate how the process might occur.
The reason for creating robotic surgeons comes down to how tiny these threads are. “Imagine taking a hair from your head and sticking it into jello covered by saran wrap, doing that to a precise depth and precision, and doing that 64 times in a reasonable amount of time,” said Christine Odabashian, the leader of Neuralink’s hardware insertion team.
The company’s previous showcases in 2019 and 2020 were designed as recruiting events, and this one is no exception. The company admitted that recruiting was its main focus for the evening. Right now, Neuralink is looking to fill many different kinds of jobs as it moves from “prototype to product,” Musk said during the presentation.
The event was basically a technical presentation of the device, showing how the system was built, the challenges the team faced, how the technology has improved so far, and what’s next. The company’s researchers said they are developing treatments that could help improve or restore vision or restore movement in people with paralysis. On the technical side, the company has ambitions to make the device itself easily upgradeable.
“I’m pretty sure you would not want an iPhone 1 in your head if an iPhone 14 was available,” Musk said.