The Neuralink logo displayed on a phone screen, a silhouette of a paper in the shape of a human face and a binary code displayed on a screen are seen in this multiple exposure illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland, December 10 2021.
Jakub Porzycki | Nurphoto | Getty Images
Elon Musk’s health tech company Neuralink shared updates of its brain implant technology during a “show and tell” recruiting event on Wednesday night. Musk said at the event that he plans to get one of the implants himself.
Musk said two of the company’s apps will aim to restore vision, even for people born blind, and a third app will focus on the motor cortex, restoring “full body functionality” for people whose spinal cord has been damaged. been severed. “We believe there are no physical limits to restoring full body functionality,” Musk said.
Neuralink could begin testing motor cortex technology in humans as early as six months, Musk said.
“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 also said he plans to get one himself. “You could get a Neuralink device implanted right now and you wouldn’t even know it. I mean, hypothetically… In fact, in one of these demos, I will,” he said. He repeated that on Twitter after the event.
Given that none of Neuralink’s devices have been tested on humans or approved by the FDA, Wednesday’s announcements warrant skepticism, said Xing Chen, assistant professor in the department of ophthalmology at the University College of Medicine. the University of Pittsburgh.
“Neuralink is a company [that] doesn’t have to answer to shareholders,” she told CNBC. “I don’t know how much oversight is involved, but I think it’s very important for the public to always keep in mind that before anything is approved by the FDA, or any government regulator, all claims should be viewed with great skepticism.”
Neuralink was founded in 2016 by Musk and a group of other scientists and engineers. He strives to develop brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs, which connect the human brain to computers capable of deciphering neural signals.
Musk has invested tens of millions of his personal wealth in the company and said, without evidence, that Neuralink devices could enable ‘superhuman cognition’, enable paralyzed people to one day use smartphones or robotic limbs with their minds, and “solve” autism and schizophrenia. .
The company’s presentation on Wednesday echoed those lofty ambitions, as Musk asserted that “As miraculous as it sounds, we believe it is possible to restore full body functionality to someone with marrow.” severed spine”.
Musk showed footage of a monkey with a computer chip in its skull playing “telepathic video games,” which Neuralink first launched more than a year ago. The billionaire, who is also the CEO of You’re here and SpaceX and the new owner of Twitter, said at the time that he wanted to implant Neuralink chips into quadriplegics with brain or spinal cord injuries so they could “control a computer mouse, or their phone, or really any device just by thinking”. “
Neuralink was criticized for its alleged treatment of monkeys and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine on Wednesday appealed to Musk to divulge details of experiments on monkeys that resulted in internal bleeding, paralysis, chronic infections, seizures, declining psychological health, and death.
Jeff Miller/University of Wisconsin-Madison
Neuralink’s flashy presentations are unusual for medical device companies, said Anna Wexler, assistant professor of medical ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. She said it was risky to encourage people with severe disabilities to have hope, especially if they could possibly suffer injuries when the technology was implanted during surgery.
Wexler encouraged people to put their “skeptical hat” on Neuralink’s big claims.
“From an ethical standpoint, I think the hype is very concerning,” she said. “Space or Twitter is one thing, but when you get into the medical context, the stakes are higher.”
Chen, who specializes in BCIs, said Neuralink implants would require subjects to undergo a highly invasive procedure. Doctors would need to create a hole in the skull in order to insert the device into brain tissue.
Even so, she thinks some people would be willing to take the risk.
“There are many disorders, such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and obsessive-compulsive disorder, in which people have received brain implants and the disorders have been successfully treated, allowing them to have a better quality of life,” Chen said. “So I think there’s precedent for doing that.”
Wexler said she believes the decision will ultimately come down to a patient’s personal calculation of risk and benefit.
Neuralink isn’t the only company trying to innovate using BCIs, and many have made great strides in recent years. Blackrock Neurotech is on track to commercialize a BCI system next year, which would make it the first commercially available BCI in history. Synchron received FDA approval in 2021 to begin a clinical trial for a permanently implanted BCI, and Paradromics is reportedly preparing to begin human testing in 2023.
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