Elon Musk’s Brain Chip Device Now Cleared for Human Testing

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The first time many may have heard about Elon Musk’s  brain chip, is probably when it figured in the news because of animal cruelty issues. This was in December last year when Musk’s company, Neuralink, was reported to be facing federal probe over unethical animal tests.

Fast forward to today, and the controversial chip is making the rounds again. This time, it is gaining media coverage over a welcome development. The chip has finally gained the approval of the United States FDA for its human testing phase. This is despite the animosity between Musk and the current head of the executive branch of the US government. A couple of months ago, US regulators refused to greenlight human testing of the product due to safety concerns.

Progress for Musk’s brain chip and Neuralink

The actual brain chip product has no official name yet, but some refer to it as Neuralink or simply the Elon Musk brain chip. Neuralink is actually the company that develops the chip. It is a Freemont, California based startup founded in 2016 by Musk and Max Hodak. The private company has already accumulated $363 million in total funding. Its operations involve robotics, neuroscience, wearables, medical devices, and software development.

Previously, regulators rejected applications for human testing, citing safety as the most urgent concern. For one, having a lithium battery inserted into the brain is unprecedented. Another issue is the possibility of the implant’s minute wires finding their way to parts of the brain. Additionally, there were questions about the device’s safe removability, and Neuralink was unable to provide a satisfactory response.

Now, Neuralink appears to have cleared regulatory requirements and is set to proceed with tests on human users. Multiple media outfits confirm that the FDA acknowledges Neuralink’s announcement about this development.

Neuralink, however, says that it does not have plans yet on recruiting participants for the tests. Previously, Elon Musk sought to make the product tested safe and effective for human users by 2020. This deadline was eventually moved to 2022. This time, Musk and Neuralink are not citing specific deadlines for the human use demonstration of the product.

Elon Musk Brain Chip Device
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Not the first of its kind

The brain chip is said to be designed to take brain signals beyond the human body’s natural neural links. As such, it can make it possible for people who have brain-related handicaps to regain their abilities. It can help the paralyzed move body parts again. It can allow the blind to regain their sense of sight. It can enable or restore verbal communication for deaf-mutes. It also has the potential of allowing people to directly communicate with or command devices through brain signals.

The Neuralink brain chip is not the first device of its kind, though. At around the same time as the FDA human test clearance announcement, reports of a brain implant product enabling a paralyzed person to walk have been posted online. Developed by Swiss researchers, this product also involves the surgical implantation of a device into the brain. The successful operation of the implant was demonstrated by a forty-year-old Dutch man who suffered paralysis after a cycling event more than a decade ago. The man is shown on video being able to stand on his own and taking baby or toddler steps. He was even able to climb stairs.

The Swiss-made brain implant system is built on the previous work of Professor Grégoire Courtine of the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne. Professor Courtine previously led the development of a spinal implant that amplified brain signals from the brain for transmission to the defective parts of the spinal column. It is responsible for enabling movement for David M’Zee, who is known as the first person to regain his movement with the help of a spinal implant. The same technology also made Michel Roccati the first person with a completely disconnected spine to regain the ability to walk.

Allowing people to merge with AI?

Neuralink and Elon Musk suggest that their brain implant is not going to be a mere copycat or slight upgrade to already existing technologies. Back in 2019, Musk implied that brain implants are set to do more than helping transmit brain signals to address paralysis and other similar conditions. These implants, Musk said, can “create a new layer of superintelligence in the human brain.” In a way, it allows people to merge with AI and fight back against the possibility of AI taking over human jobs and purpose in society.

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Exciting times indeed. Technology watchers are no longer glued to developments in smartphones and computer hardware. Now, the technology scene is dominated by artificial intelligence and the integration of advanced tech into society and even into the human body. There’s a lot to look forward to in Neuralink’s brain implant, especially with the promise that it would be less invasive and packed with more capabilities.