Elon Musk sheds light on his Neuralink technology
It sounds like something out of a movie, but it isn’t. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is encouraging the development of brain–computer interfaces. The agency published a draft guidance in February 2019 entitled “Implanted Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) Devices for Patients with Paralysis or Amputation – Non-clinical Testing and Clinical Considerations” to promote the development of this new technology.
The most recent announcement in this space was made by Elon Musk, who recently revealed information about Neuralink, the company he founded in 2017 to develop a brain–computer interface.
The immediate goal of the company is to develop a brain–computer interface that will allow paralyzed people and patients with brain disorders to control smartphone apps or restore motor function. The technology consists of hundreds of flexible, fiber-like neural implants, which the company intends to place into the brain using a surgical robot. The implants would supposedly allow much faster data transfer rates than is currently possible. In addition, the flexibility of the polymeric fibers would be more compatible with brain tissue than rigid interfaces.
Neuralink has tested the system on rats and monkeys so far, but hopes to be working with human volunteers by the end of 2020. Much of the initial efforts have been focused on developing the interface hardware. There is still much work to do with regard to understanding brain anatomy and the translation of neural signals into computer commands. The company has not yet begun working with regulatory bodies or made plans for human studies, expecting progress to be slow and FDA approval difficult.
Eventually, Musk envisions implantation of the neural network as a simple procedure likened to Lasik eye surgery, which will make it commonplace for people to mentally connect to the Internet.