Elon Musk, co-founder of the human brain-interface technology company Neuralink, has said his company hopes to be implanting computer chips into human patients next year, beginning with spinal cord injury patients. The date, which seems remarkably close for such a sci-fi-esque concept, is actually two years later than previously stated, but Musk hopes to begin human testing in 2022 regardless.
The device will supposedly allow patients with no control over their limbs to interface with digital devices with similar technologies, allowing quadriplegics to order shopping, communicate with friends, and browse the web directly with brain waves.
Neuralink previously demonstrated a monkey playing a video game using only its brain earlier this year, but Musk has since stated that translating that success into humans has posed a significant challenge.
"Neuralink's working well in monkeys and we're actually doing just a lot of testing and just confirming that it's very safe and reliable and the Neuralink device can be removed safely," said Musk in an interview at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council Summit, reports Business Insider.
"We hope to have this in our first humans – which will be people that have severe spinal cord injuries like tetraplegics, quadriplegics – next year, pending FDA approval."
The chip works by implanting electrodes into the region of the brain that controls voluntary movement, which then connect to a larger array called the Link, which can process, stimulate, and transmit neural signals. It is charged via wireless charging from the outside of the head and connects wirelessly to devices that allow the user to control them without traditional touch inputs. Neuralink claims that the electrode system is so fine, human hands cannot implant them, and so they are developing a robot system to insert the technology exactly where it needs to be.
“I think we have a chance with Neuralink to restore full-body functionality to someone who has a spinal cord injury. Meaning I think we have a chance – and I emphasize a chance – of being able to allow someone who cannot walk or use their arms to be able to walk again, naturally,” Musk continued.
While they might be the loudest, Neuralink are not the only researchers developing a brain-interface device. Last April, a device developed by BrainGate allowed a paralyzed man to control a computer with only his mind, and the results were extremely promising. Before that, most electrode arrays relied on a messy connection of wires to interface with the computer, but both BrainGate and Neuralink will be relying on wireless connection to make the devices more viable for daily life.