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The start-up Neuralink, one of Elon Musk’s companies, announced yesterday on Twitter that it had received the agreement of the American health authorities to test its connected brain implants on humans.
“This is an important first step that will one day allow our technology to help many people,” said the Californian company on its Twitter account, adding that “recruits for clinical trials are not yet open”.
We are excited to share that we have received the FDA’s approval to launch our first-in-human clinical study!
This is the result of incredible work by the Neuralink team in close collaboration with the FDA and represents an important first step that will one day allow our…
—Neuralink (@neuralink) May 25, 2023
Help paralyzed people
Neuralink designs connected devices to be implanted in the brain to communicate with computers directly through thought. They must first be used to help people who are paralyzed or suffering from neurological diseases.
The start-up then wants to make these implants safe and reliable enough to be elective (comfort) surgery – people could then pay a few thousand dollars to equip their brains with computer power.
For Elon Musk, these chips must allow humanity to arrive at a “symbiosis with artificial intelligence (AI)”, in his 2020 words, delivered at the company’s annual conference. The billionaire fears that AI systems will overtake humans and one day take control.
In March, he founded X.AI, a new AI company, likely to compete with OpenAI, the company that designed ChatGPT, a successful generative AI program capable of interacting with humans and to produce all kinds of texts on demand.
“We are now confident that Neuralink’s device is ready for humans, so the timeline depends on the FDA approval process.”, the American drug agency, he had indicated at the end of November on Twitter, a month after having bought the social network. The FDA did not immediately respond to a request from AFP.
The boss of Tesla and SpaceX (space exploration), is used to risky predictions, especially about the autonomy of Tesla electric cars. In July 2019, he estimated that Neuralink could carry out its first tests on people in 2020. So far, the prototypes the size of a small coin have been implanted in the skulls of animals. Several monkeys are thus able to “play” video games or “type” words on a screen, simply by following the movement of the cursor on the screen with their eyes.
At the end of November, the start-up also took stock of its latest advances in the design of a robot-surgeon and the development of other implants, to be installed in the spinal cord or the eyes, to restore mobility or vision. . In 2022, Elon Musk urged Neuralink employees to work faster. “We will all be dead before anything useful happens,” he told them during a meeting last year, according to the Bloomberg news agency.
Other companies are working on controlling computers by thought, such as Synchron, which announced in July 2022 that it had implanted the first brain-machine interface in the United States. “We are building technology that can directly broadcast the thoughts of people who have lost the ability to move or speak due to illness or injury,” explains Thomas Oxley, the founder and boss of this start-up, in a video on his website. Several patients are testing the implant, which has been inserted into blood vessels, so they can compose emails or go online using their eyes and brain.