The start-up Neuralink, one of Elon Musk's companies, announced Thursday on Twitter 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, adding that "recruitment for clinical trials is 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
"We are now confident that Neuralink's device is ready for humans, so the timing depends on the FDA approval process," Musk said in late November on Twitter, a month after buying the social network. The FDA did not immediately respond to a request from AFP.
A "symbiosis with artificial intelligence"
Neuralink designs connected devices to implant 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 fall under elective (comfort) surgery – people could then pay a few thousand dollars to equip their brains with computing power.
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For Elon Musk, these chips must allow humanity to achieve a "symbiosis with artificial intelligence (AI)", in his words of 2020, pronounced 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 the field, presumably to compete with OpenAI, the company that designed ChatGPT, a successful generative AI program that can interact with humans and produce all kinds of texts on demand.
Musk wants to go faster
In July 2019, he estimated that Neuralink could carry out its first tests on individuals in 2020. For now, prototypes the size of a small coin have been implanted into the skulls of animals. Many monkeys are able to "play" video games or "type" words on a screen, simply by following the movement of the cursor on the screen.
At the end of November, the start-up had also taken 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 eyes, to restore mobility or vision.
VIDEO. Paraplegic, he can walk again thanks to... to thought
In 2022, Elon Musk had urged Neuralink employees to work faster. "We will all be dead before anything useful happens," he told them at a meeting last year, according to Bloomberg news agency.
Other companies are working on controlling computers through 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 broadcast the thoughts of people who have lost the ability to move or speak because of illness or injury," says Thomas Oxley, the founder and boss of this start-up, in a video on his website. Several patients are already testing the implant, which has been inserted into blood vessels, to be able to compose emails or go on the Internet through their eyes and brain.