At a “show and tell” event on Wednesday, Elon Musk said that his brain-computer interface company, Neuralink, could put one of its devices in someone’s head in the next six months. This means that it won’t happen this year. He also said that he would get the device put in his head at some point in the future.
During the presentation, Musk said that the company had sent the Food and Drug Administration, which is in charge of medical devices in the US, most of the paperwork needed for a human clinical trial. Musk had said before that he hoped to start testing on people in 2020 and then in 2022. This has been pushed back to at least 2023.
Neuralink wants to make a device that can be implanted in the brain and used to control a computer with brain activity. Back in 2019, Musk said that the company was using monkeys to test the device. It brought out pigs with implants in 2020. And last year, Neuralink put out a video of a monkey using its brain to play Pong. The monkeys are back this year. In a video, one of them helped “type” the phrase “welcome to show and tell” by focusing on the words and letters that were highlighted. Another video showed how the monkeys were taught to sit under a wireless charger to charge the devices.
Later in the presentation, Neuralink researchers showed off a pig on a treadmill. They said that the pig was helping them figure out how to help people with mobility problems in the future.
The actual Neuralink devices are small and have a number of flexible “threads” that can be put into the brain. “It’s like replacing a piece of your skull with a smartwatch, for lack of a better analogy,” Musk said, for lack of a better comparison.
During the presentation, DJ Seo, the vice president of Implant and co-founder of Neuralink, said that a robotic system could implant 64 of these “threads” into the brain in about 15 minutes. He used a mannequin to show how the process might work.
Robot surgeons are needed because these threads are so small. Christine Odabashian, who is in charge of Neuralink’s hardware insertion team, said, “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.”
The company’s demos in 2019 and 2020 were meant to be recruiting events, and this one is no different. The company admitted that recruiting was the main goal of the evening. Musk said at tonight’s show and tell that as Neuralink moves from “prototype to product,” it needs to fill many different kinds of jobs.
The event was mostly a technical presentation of the device. It showed how the system was built, what problems the team had to deal with, how the technology has changed so far, and what changes are on the way. Researchers at the company said they were working on treatments that could help improve or restore people’s vision or give people who are paralyzed back their ability to move. On the technology side, the company wants to make it easy to upgrade the device itself.
Musk said, “I’m pretty sure you would not want an iPhone 1 in your head if an iPhone 14 was available.”