The idea of having a portion of your skull removed and a brain chip implanted might sound like the stuff of nightmares.
But ‘thousands of people’ have expressed an interest in doing just that, according to a new report.
Elon Musk’s company, Neuralink, has a vision of treating conditions such as paralysis and blindness by linking brains to computers with the help of microchips.
But to achieve this, it needs a number of volunteers ‘willing to have a chunk of their skull removed’ so that a robot can insert a chip into their brain and prove that the technology works in people.
The implants have so far only been tested on monkeys and pigs.
Keen: Thousands of people are said to have expressed an interest in having one of Elon Musk’s controversial brain chips implanted into their skull as part of an experimental human trial
How it works: The chips are designed to interpret signals produced in the brain and relay information to devices via Bluetooth, with the aim being to enable a participant to control a computer cursor or a keyboard using just their thoughts
NEURALINK: ELON MUSK’S PLAY FOR COMPUTER-BRAIN INTERFACES
Elon Musk’s Neuralink is working to link the human brain with a machine interface by creating micron-sized devices.
Neuralink was registered in California as a ‘medical research’ company in July 2016, and Musk has funded the company mostly by himself.
It is working on what Musk calls the ‘neural lace’ technology, implanting tiny brain electrodes that may one day upload and download thoughts.
The technology is initially planned to be used to help people suffering from severe degenerative brain disorders such as ALS, but it could have wider uses in years to come.
One of Musk’s biographers, Ashlee Vance, suggested that Neuralink had received ‘an outpouring of interest from thousands of prospective patients’ wanting to act as a human guinea pig.
He said that the firm had yet to implant its device in a human but aimed to operate on 11 people next year and more than 22,000 by 2030.
It is unclear if participants will be paid to take part.
Neuralink launched a recruitment drive for the first human trials in September, saying it was seeking people with paralysis to test its experimental device as part of a six-year study.
But the company has been dogged by controversy in recent years, having sparked ethical concerns and drawn skepticism among neuroscientists and other experts.
Vance, who authored the 2015 biography ‘Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future’, wrote in a Bloomberg report that the ideal candidate for Neuralink’s first human trial was ‘an adult under age 40 whose four limbs are paralysed’.
He explained that it would take a ‘couple of hours’ for a surgeon to perform a craniectomy and a further 25 minutes for the chip to be inserted by a robot into the area of the brain which controls the hands, wrists and forearms.
‘The goal is to show that the device can safely collect useful data from that part of the patient’s brain, a key step in Neuralink’s efforts to convert a person’s thoughts into a range of commands a computer can understand,’ Vance added.
He said the implant would relay this information to a nearby laptop or tablet.
Vance, who said he had visited Neuralink’s facilities 10 times in three years, also revealed how Musk had pushed his company to ward off the threat of similar brain-computer start-ups Synchron and Onward.
Both have already begun human trials, leading the billionaire to fume last year that the two companies were ‘currently kicking our a**’.
In response, he is said to have told Neuralink that it needed to pick up its pace ‘like the world is coming to an end’, according to Vance.
Where it will go: The study will use a robot to surgically place a brain-computer interface (BCI) implant in a region of the brain that controls movement, Neuralink added. Pictured is a scan showing the implant in an animal’s brain
Safety concerns meant the firm struggled for a while to gain the necessary approval for human trials, particularly with the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA).
Major issues involved the lithium battery of the device, the possibility of the implant’s wires migrating within the brain and the challenge of safely extracting the device without damaging brain tissue.
The FDA later granted its approval in May but did not disclose how its initial concerns were resolved.
Despite the controversy, SpaceX and Tesla CEO Musk has grand ambitions for Neuralink, saying the company will facilitate speedy surgical insertions of its chip devices to treat conditions such as obesity, autism, depression and schizophrenia.
It could also allow for web browsing and telepathy.
However, even if the device proves to be safe for human use, it would still potentially take more than a decade for Neuralink to secure clearance to commercialise it, experts have cautioned.
Goal: Neuralink wants to treat conditions such as paralysis and blindness by linking brains to computers with the help of microchips
They say the brain implants will require extensive testing to overcome technical and ethical challenges if they are to become widely available.
Musk’s company – which was only founded in 2016 – has repeatedly overestimated the speed at which it deliver on its promises.
Initially Neuralink wanted to start inserting chips into humans in 2020, before putting this back to 2022.
Now it seems more likely that it won’t happen until 2024.
There was also a word of caution from one of the company’s executives in response to Musk’s demands.
Referencing the fate of SpaceX’s first few rocket launches, Shivon Zilis, Neuralink’s director of special projects and the mother of two of Musk’s children, told Vance: ‘We can’t blow up the first three. That’s not an option here.’
NEURALINK ‘BOTCHED EXPERIMENTS’ WITH MONKEYS – FORMER EMPLOYEE SAYS
‘Botched experiments’ by Elon Musk’s Neuralink allegedly ‘kept suffering animals alive for no reason and malpractice caused monkey’s brains to hemorrhage’ during rushed brain chip testing, a former Neuralink employee and internal lab notes have previously revealed.
The billionaire’s startup is accused of violating the Animal Welfare Act with its experiments at the University of California, Davis, from 2017 through 2020, which ‘sacrificed all the animals involved,’ a former Neuralink employee, who asked to remain anonymous, told DailyMail.com.
One case stood out to them – a monkey sacrificed ahead of schedule due to errors allegedly made during surgery.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine filed a lawsuit against the University of California, Davis, where the experiments were held, claiming it has to hand over video footage and photographs of the experiments under California’s Public Records Act. Pictured is an image of a monkey shown on Neuralink’s website
DailyMail.com previously obtained Neuralink lab notes that detail how a sealant was placed on the surgical holes, causing the monkey’s brain to swell and hemorrhage.
‘There was no reason to use it,’ the former employee, who worked as a necropsy technician, told DailyMail.com.
This incident is among a laundry list of cases brought to light in recent months by former staff, which has led the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to open a federal investigation into Nueralink for animal-welfare violations.
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