NEW YORK, (iexclusivenews) – Neuralink, the biotechnology startup founded by Elon Musk, has announced that it is ready to start its first human clinical trial.
The trial, called the PRIME Study, will involve implanting a chip in the brains of paralysis patients and allowing them to control a computer with their thoughts.
Here are some of the key facts you need to know about this groundbreaking project.
What is Neuralink and what does it do?
Neuralink is a company that aims to create a direct connection between the human brain and a computer.
The company was founded in 2016 by Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur behind Tesla, SpaceX, and X.
Musk has said that he was inspired by science fiction authors such as Iain Banks, who envisioned a “neural lace” technology that could link all human thoughts to a computer.
Neuralink’s main product is a brain-computer interface (BCI) device that consists of a chip and a set of thin wires that are inserted into the brain by a robot.
The chip can record and transmit brain signals to an app on a smartphone or tablet. The device is designed to be wireless, rechargeable, and upgradable.
Neuralink claims that its BCI device can have various applications, such as restoring vision, hearing, speech.
And movement in people with disabilities, enhancing cognitive abilities and memory, and enabling communication with artificial intelligence.
How does the PRIME Study work?
The PRIME Study is the first human clinical trial of Neuralink’s BCI device.
PRIME stands for Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface.
The study is being conducted to evaluate both the safety and functionality of the implant.
However, the study will enroll up to 10 participants who have quadriplegia due to cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
The participants will have a chip implanted in the motor cortex, the part of the brain that controls the intention to move.
The chip will then record and send brain signals to an app, with the initial goal being “to grant people the ability to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts alone,” according to Neuralink.
The study will last for six years, with 18 months of at-home and clinic visits followed by follow-up visits over five years.
Meanwhile, the participants will be monitored for any adverse events or complications related to the implant.
They will also be assessed for their ability to use the BCI device for various tasks, such as browsing the web, sending emails, playing games, or controlling smart home devices.
Those who are interested in joining the study can sign up in the patient registry on Neuralink’s website.
What are the challenges and controversies facing Neuralink?
Neuralink’s BCI device is not the first of its kind. There are other companies and researchers who have been developing similar technologies for decades.
However, Neuralink claims that its device is more advanced and less invasive than existing ones.
One of the main challenges facing Neuralink is obtaining regulatory approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA has issued a paper in 2021 outlining its initial thoughts on BCI devices, noting that the field is “progressing rapidly”.
However, the agency has also expressed concerns about potential risks such as infection, bleeding, inflammation, migration, or damage of the implant or brain tissue.
Neuralink has received FDA clearance for human clinical trials in May 2023, after being rejected in 2022 due to safety issues.
Elon Musk has been optimistic about starting human trials since 2019, but has faced several delays and setbacks.
Another challenge facing Neuralink is ensuring ethical standards and animal welfare in its research.
The company has faced scrutiny after a monkey died in project testing in 2022 as part of efforts to get the animal to play Pong, one of the first video games.
The incident sparked an investigation by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which found several violations of animal care regulations at Neuralink’s facility.
Neuralink has also faced criticism from some experts and activists who question the necessity and desirability of merging humans and machines.
Some argue that BCI devices could pose threats to privacy, security, identity, autonomy, or dignity of human beings.
Others warn that BCI devices could create social inequalities or conflicts between those who have access to them and those who do not.
What are the future prospects of Neuralink?
Despite the challenges and controversies, Neuralink has also received support and praise from many people who see it as a promising and innovative venture.
The company has raised $280 million in a fundraising round led by Founders Fund, a San Francisco-based VC firm established by Peter Thiel, the controversial billionaire who was also a co-founder at PayPal.
Neuralink has also attracted a lot of attention and curiosity from the public, especially from Musk’s fans and followers.
The company has held several events and demonstrations to showcase its progress and achievements.
Such as showing a pig named Gertrude with a Neuralink implant in her snout in 2020, or revealing a monkey named Pager playing Pong with his mind in 2021.
Neuralink’s vision is to create a “symbiosis” between humans and artificial intelligence, and to enable humans to keep up with the rapid advancement of technology.
The company hopes that its BCI device will eventually be able to do more than just control computers, but also to stimulate neurons, modulate emotions, enhance learning, or even upload or download memories.
Neuralink’s first human trial is a significant milestone in its journey, but it is also just the beginning.
The company still has a long way to go before it can achieve its ambitious goals and overcome its formidable obstacles.
Whether Neuralink will succeed or fail, or whether it will be a boon or a bane for humanity, remains to be seen.
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