The start-up Neuralink, one of Elon Musk's companies, announced on Twitter on Thursday that it had received approval from US 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," the California-based company said on its Twitter account, noting that "clinical trial recruitments are not yet open."
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 achieve a "symbiosis with artificial intelligence (AI)", in his words from 2020, 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 company specializing in AI, probably to compete with OpenAI, the company that designed ChatGPT, a successful generative AI program capable of interacting with humans and producing all kinds of text on demand.
"We are now confident that Neuralink's device is ready for humans, so timing depends on FDA approval process," the US drug agency tweeted in late November. a month after buying the social network. 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 perform its first tests on individuals 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'll all be dead before anything useful happens," he told them at 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 implemented the first brain-machine interface in the United States.
"We are building technology that can directly stream the thoughts of people who have lost the ability to move or speak due to illness or injury," says Thomas Oxley, the startup's founder and boss, 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.