Brain implant company Neuralink Corp, co-founded by Elon Musk in 2016, said it had received official approval from US authorities to conduct human tests. As promised, such chips in the future will restore sight to the blind or put people with disabilities on their feet. But so far, only relatively minor successes and the death of more than 1,500 animals that were participants in the experiments are known.
Permission to implant a microchip in the brain of a living person was allegedly issued by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but the regulator itself has not yet made any statements.
The billionaire’s company says it does not intend to immediately announce the recruitment of participants for the first tests. Therefore, when exactly microchip testing in humans can be started is still unknown. Neuralink promised to provide more information about the tests in the future.
Previously, Musk has repeatedly applied to the FDA for permission, but all requests ended in nothing. The waiver was last reported in March 2023.
What kind of microchips does Neuralink produce?
Neuralink intends to implant specially designed microchips that will help people with diseases such as paralysis or blindness. Such microchips will enable people with disabilities to use computers and mobile technologies.
The technology works like this: the chips receive neural signals from the brain and interpret them, and then transmit them to another device using Bluetooth. It will look as if the bearer of the chip controls the electronic devices with only the power of thought.
Neuralink also believes that over time, their device will be able to restore neural activity within the body, allowing people with spinal cord injuries to move their limbs. The company also seeks to cure neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
The company has evidence that the chips really work. In particular, Neuralink published several videos with monkeys controlling a computer with the power of thought. On one of them, the test monkey played ping-pong with the power of thought.
Neuralink originally planned to implant the first microchip into the human brain in 2020. Subsequently, the date was shifted to 2022, but when the company received another refusal from the FDA in December, human experiments were again postponed. However, Musk believed that his company would begin human experiments by June 2023.
At the same time, data about the violation of animal rights during the tests got into the network.
Animal death scandal
Neuralink is facing federal investigation into potential animal welfare violations, according to documents previously obtained by Reuters and sources familiar with the investigation and the company’s activities.
Employees of the company claimed that they complained that testing is carried out in a hurry and leads to unnecessary suffering and death of many animals. About 1,500 animals were reported to have been killed as a result of the experiments, including over 280 sheep, pigs, and monkeys. However, the exact number of animals killed is not known, as the company does not keep such records. The list of the dead also did not include mice and rats, which were also experimented on.
However, the number of deaths itself does not mean anything, since many companies conduct animal testing and very often animals are euthanized after experiments so that they can be examined posthumously for scientific purposes.
However, current and former Neuralink employees have argued that the number of animal deaths is higher than necessary. According to them, one of the reasons for such results is Musk’s demands to speed up the study.
Reuters, in its own investigation, showed that the company, due to its haste, often made human errors, which led to the fact that experiments had to be carried out on new animals.
One of the employees of the company in correspondence also called the operations carried out on animals “hack-work”.
Musk also put pressure on employees even in business correspondence. In early 2023, he sent his staff news about Swiss researchers who had developed an electrical implant that helped a paralyzed man walk again.
“We can let people use their hands and walk again in everyday life!” Musk wrote to employees at 6:37 a.m. Ten minutes later he wrote that the company was not moving fast enough and “it’s driving me crazy!”
He also asked employees to imagine that bombs were strapped to their heads and that they needed to work faster. Musk also threatened to give Neuralink a “market crash” if the company didn’t do well.
Not the first
Interestingly, Neuralink announced that it received permission from the FDA just the day after scientists from Switzerland reported that, thanks to a brain implant, they managed to put on their feet 40-year-old Dutchman Gert-Jan Oskam, who was paralyzed after an accident that occurred for 28 years. That’s why.
The man was reported to have received electronic brain implants that wirelessly transmit his thoughts to his legs and feet via a second implant on his spine.
The created system was reported to be at an experimental stage, but it is already called “very encouraging”.
“I feel like a toddler learning to walk again. It’s been a long journey, but now I can get up and have a beer with my friend. It’s a pleasure that many people don’t realize,” Oskam told the BBC.
The man is now also able to stand on his own and climb stairs.
Jocelyn Block, a neurosurgeon and professor at the University of Lausanne, who performed the chip implantation, stressed that the system is still at the basic research stage and it will be many years before it becomes available to paralyzed patients.
Earlier, GLOBAL HAPPENINGS also said that American scientists have developed special implants that are implanted in the brain and can deprive a person of a depressive state.
I am a technology author with 8 years of experience in journalism. My writing covers the latest technology advancements and trends, drawing on my expertise in news journalism and social media platforms. I have contributed to major media outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Reuters.