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Semafor LogoJ.D. Capelouto
J.D. Capelouto
techNorth America

Elon Musk says his brain implant company Neuralink could start human tests in 6 months

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Title iconThe News

Elon Musk announced Wednesday that his brain implant tech company Neuralink is running tests on a group of six monkeys that are able to type with their minds, with Musk estimating the company could begin testing brain implants on humans in the next six months.

Title iconStep Back

Brain-computer interface technology decodes a user's brain signals — detected through an implant — to control an external device. The tech could eventually be a crucial tool for assisting people with neurological disabilities.

Neuralink has been testing its tech for several years, and last year released a video showing a monkey playing a digital ping-pong-like game with its mind.

Other companies, including Synchron Inc. and Blackrock Neurotech, have already been testing brain implants on humans.

Synchron's brain implant was the first to receive FDA approval for permanent implantation in human trials.

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"What we have figured out is how to get into the brain without doing invasive brain surgery and having a fully implantable wireless system," Synchron CEO Tom Oxley recently told Semafor.

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The Neuralink developments, announced at a "show and tell" event that doubled as a recruitment effort for the company, marked the latest step in Musk's ambitious, long-term vision for the company. He said he eventually wants to use the brain implants to help restore sight to people who are blind, and allow people with brain or spinal injuries to move again.

For now, the company is still submitting paperwork to the FDA to seek approval for future tests on humans.

He described the tech as "replacing a piece of skull with a smartwatch."

Title iconRoom for Disagreement

Some experts have urged brain-computer internet researchers to focus more on patient needs, rather than just tests on animals.

"With all respect, your monkey playing pong, it's just a monkey playing pong and it's probably a waste of a monkey," David Putrino, the director of rehabilitation at the Mt. Sinai Health System, told Semafor. "No one cares about your science experiment if you are not ultimately creating a technology that is demonstrably helping patients."

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Want to pass along a tip or feedback? Write to J.D. at jcapelouto@semafor.com.

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