On Wednesday, Elon Musk gave an update on the advancement of his Neuralink brain implant/interface project. In the update, he noted he expects to begin clinical trials in six months, and he hopes one of the first targeted applications will be in restoring vision.
Based in Austin, Texas and the San Francisco Bay Area, Neuralink is developing implantable chips which will be designed to interface directly with the human brain. It is hoped the technology will ultimately allow paralyzed patients to regain motor movement, and ultimately, help meld human brains with computers.
Thus far the company has been conducting animal tests on monkeys, as it moves toward seeking US regulatory approval to conduct clinical trials in humans.
During the update Musk said, “We want to be extremely careful and certain that it will work well before putting a device into a human but we’ve submitted I think most of our paperwork to the FDA and we think probably in about six months we should be able to have our first Neuralink in a human.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The company hopes to first pursue two different applications – restoration of vision, and enabling movement of muscles in people unable to do so. Musk said, “Even if someone has never had vision, ever, like they were born blind, we believe we can still restore vision.”
Originally scheduled for October 31st, Musk had postponed the update without reason. At the last Neuralink public update, Musk had unveiled a monkey who played a videogame by thinking alone, and manipulating his brain implant with his neurons directly.
Musk’s ultimate goals with Neuralink are to interface the human brain with computers. From there, it should be possible to allow those suffering from paralysis to bypass the spinal cord to directly control muscles, as well as to go into the brain with a computer to correct such maladies as Parkinson’s, dementia and Alzheimer’s. He has also indicated hope to one day meld the human brain with artificial intelligence.
The technology however has been slow to develop and meet milestones. In a 2019 presentation, Musk had said he hoped to receive regulatory approval by the end of 2020. In late 2021, he indicated a hope trials would begin this year.
The company has repeatedly failed to meet internal deadlines to gain FDA approval for human trials, according to former employees. Musk even toyed with investing in rival Synchron earlier this year, hoping to exploit their regulatory approvals to advance Neuralink technologies.
In July, Synchron managed to implant its brain interface in a human subject in the United States for the first time, which was seen as a major milestone. The company had received US regulatory approval for human trials in 2021, and has completed studies of its technology in four people in Australia.