In April 2021, Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk introduced his newest startup with a video of a monkey playing a video game with his mind. The macaque monkey had chips embedded into each side of his brain which allowed him to control the simple game by using more than 2,000 electrodes implanted in the brain's motor cortex.
The ambitious brain-chip start-up is another notch on Musk's laundry list of ongoing endeavors. Known for planning to colonize Mars, owner and CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and Twitter, Musk has a reputation for aiming high. His ambitious project, Neuralink, plans to propel humanity into the future.
Neuralink's plan is more than video games, however. The chip will allow people with paralysis or neurological disorders, like Parkinson's, to regain motor function. The implanted chip will also restore vision.
“Even if someone has never had vision, ever, like they were born blind, we believe we can still restore vision,” he said.
Musk said at the Fremont, California headquarters on Wednesday, that they will be ready for human brain trials in six months.
But Musk is a little late on his timeline. Originally scheduled for human trials in 2021, Neuralink ran into issues with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after they missed internal deadlines.
"We want to be extremely careful and certain that it will work well before putting a device into a human," Musk said during a public update that lasted nearly three hours.
Neuralink started working on its plans in 2016 with the aim of curing neurological conditions by fusing humans with artificial intelligence. In 2020, Musk exhibited a pig with a Neuralink implant describing it as a "Fitbit in your skull."
But now, the San Francisco and Austin, Texas-based company is finally ready to move on from animal testing.
Musk said the original steps were slow. "The progress at first, particularly as it applies to humans, will seem perhaps agonizingly slow, but we are doing all of the things to bring it to scale in parallel," he said. "So, in theory, progress should be exponential."
Of the original nine key founding members, only two remain at Neuralink: Musk, and the vice president, DJ Seo. The company as a whole has almost 100 employees and is incredibly well-funded, with 205 million dollars invested into Musk's idea.
So, how is the chip implanted? It isn't a surgery-free procedure. Robotic surgical tools remove a portion of the skull and then brain-scanning sensors insert the chip—approximately 6 millimeters and .24 inches in size—in your brain. The chip is wireless and has a megabit wireless data transmission (basically, the sensors that exist in a smartwatch) and an all-day battery life. At night, users will attach a small charger to their heads.
During Wednesday's presentation, Seo shared footage of the robot created to perform the surgery as well as a demonstration of what the surgery would look like. A test clinic is scheduled to be opened in Austin, Texas.
While Neuralink sounds like it's a step towards the greater good, many people are concerned about the massive complications that may occur when fusing humankind with technology. Animal rights activists have also spoken out after a monkey died during testing.
Although Musk and his team are ready to move forward, humans won't be walking around with chips just yet. Musk is notoriously late on many of his promises, like his SpaceX rocket and his self-driving car prediction so tech-hungry folks will need to wait until Musk finishes the FDA paperwork to ensure Neuralink's implant is regulated and approved.
On November 30th, Musk Tweeted, "We are now confident that the Neuralink device is ready for humans, so timing is a function of working through the FDA-approval process."