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Elon Musk’s Brain Implant Firm Greenlit For Human Trials

June 12, 2023 | By Kali Girl

Neuralink, Elon Musk’s brain-implant venture, recently obtained regulatory clearance for its inaugural human clinical trial, reports The Guardian. However, apprehensions have emerged due to Musk’s ambitious promotion of the technology, his managerial track record at other companies, and concerns about animal welfare during Neuralink experiments.

Musk’s unpredictable leadership on Twitter and his rapid-paced approach in the tech industry prompt doubts about Neuralink’s capacity to responsibly supervise the development of an intrusive medical device with the ability to interpret brain signals.

Regarding the decision by the US Food and Drug Administration to allow the company to proceed with clinical trials, Laura Cabrera, a neuroethicist at Penn State’s Rock Ethics Institute said, “I was surprised.” “Is he going to see a brain implant device as something that requires not just extra regulation, but also ethical consideration?” she said. “Or will he just treat this like another gadget?”

Founded in 2016, Neuralink developed the Link—an electrode-rich computer chip that can be surgically embedded in the brain’s surface, forming a brain-computer interface (BCI). Additionally, they’ve created a robotic implantation tool for the chip.

Musk envisions Neuralink’s device for various therapeutic purposes, such as treating blindness, paralysis, and depression. However, his ultimate goal is to develop a “general population device” capable of connecting human minds directly to supercomputers, aiding in keeping pace with artificial intelligence. Musk has even suggested the potential for the device to extract and store thoughts, as “a backup drive for your non-physical being, your digital soul.”

Neuralink is not quite there yet. They’ve primarily conducted chip testing on animals. In a 2021 video, a monkey can be seen playing Pong using the device and in a 2022 video, another monkey appears to be typing on a computer telepathically.

The recent FDA approval signifies a significant milestone for Neuralink, following the regulator’s earlier rejection of the company’s bid for clinical trials in 2022 due to “dozens of deficiencies” that required attention before proceeding with human testing, reports Reuters.

Neuralink’s website has recently unveiled its search for participants facing various conditions like deafness, blindness, paralysis, or the inability to speak.

Safety concerns surrounding Neuralink’s implant, including the lithium battery’s potential overheating and the possibility of the device’s wires migrating to other brain areas, have been raised, as reported by the news agency. Moreover, the implant’s removal without harming brain tissue remains a challenge. The resolution of these concerns remains unclear, and the FDA chose not to comment on Neuralink’s application process, but in a general statement, a spokepeson said, “scientifically rigorous process to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of medical devices”.

She added that the FDA has “a deep commitment to ensure the responsible and humane care of animals” involved in testing.

Neuralink chose not to comment regarding its clinical trial plans.

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