Elon Musk says he’s confident enough about the future of brain-computer interface technology that he’s ready to plug into it after human testing begins.
Neuralink may not be as famous as some of Musk’s other ventures, but the neurotech company he founded in 2016 is racing to roll out human trials for its cellphone-sized brain implant. coin, which could allow computers to decipher neural signals. For years, Musk has touted Neuralink’s potential to allow quadriplegic patients to control computers and mobile devices with their thoughts and potentially even restore motor function and cure neurological disorders.
Neuralink plans to begin long-awaited human clinical trials for the implant within six months, Musk announced Wednesday night at a company event, after numerous delays in rolling out human trials over the past few years. At the event, Musk also said he was ready to try out the device for himself as soon as it was ready.
“I could have a Neuralink device implanted in me right now, and you wouldn’t even know it,” Musk said. “Maybe one of those demos, in fact, one of those demos I’ll do,” he added, to applause from the audience. He reiterated his pledge to receive an implant when pressed on Twitter shortly after the event.
“Elon just committed to getting a brain implant. Says he might get one now because he’s undetectable. ‘Actually in one of these demos I will,'” wrote the Bloomberg reporter Ashlee Vance on Twitter, eliciting a clear response from Musk: “Yeah.”
Neuralink did not immediately respond to FortuneMusk’s request for comment on Musk’s plans or timeline for human clinical trials.
Musk said Neuralink is awaiting Food & Drug Administration approval to begin human trials. The company has so far tested its product in animals, including pigs, rats and primates, and Musk showed video footage of monkeys “telepathically typing” on Wednesday.
“Obviously we want to be extremely careful and certain that it will work well before we put a device in a human, but I think we submit most of our paperwork to the FDA,” he said.
Musk announced several potential new uses for Neuralink, including the ability to restore vision to people born blind and even return “full body functionality” to people who have suffered spinal cord sectioning and paralysis. Musk has said in the past that all humans will eventually need brain-computer interface devices like Neuralink to keep pace with super-advanced computers created by artificial intelligence and machine learning.
But Musk and Neuralink have endured their fair share of problems since the product’s inception, including numerous delays in human trials. Musk initially targeted human trials for Neuralink for 2020, though the rollout has been delayed several times since then.
The company has also come under fire from animal rights groups, who have accused it of abusing test subjects. A responsible health care advocacy organization even filed a federal lawsuit earlier this year against Neuralink accusing the company of conducting “invasive and lethal brain experiments” on 23 monkeys. In February, Neuralink admitted to euthanizing eight monkeys linked to the complaint, six of which were due to complications resulting from the installation of the brain implant.
Some scientists have criticized Neuralink as overrated, arguing that many of Neuralink’s supposedly groundbreaking achievements were already known to science. Even a neuroscientist referred to the work of Neuralink in 2020 as “solid engineering but poor neuroscience”.
But the biggest problems with Neuralink’s ambitions may not be its science or its external accusations; they can come from the company itself.
Former Neuralink employees interviewed by Fortune in January spoke of a corporate structure marked by “internal tensions and erratic management” and a culture of “blame and fear”. Many employees described a high-pressure environment where product design decisions had to be made before reliable data reached scientific teams conducting animal experiments. As for Musk himself, despite being CEO, employees said he rarely visits headquarters, typically making about two visits per quarter, during which time he spends a few hours in the Neuralink offices.
Employees said it was often difficult to reach Musk to get approval for major decisions because he was mostly concerned with his other companies Tesla and SpaceX. Musk’s distractions have likely only piled up since then, having recently bought social media company Twitter and taken on the role of CEO, in what has been a tumultuous tenure so far.
Neuralink did not immediately respond to Fortune‘s request for comment on various criticisms leveled at the company.
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