Thousands of people have expressed interest in receiving one of Neuralink’s brain implants, according to Ashlee Vance, one of Elon Musk’s biographers.
Neuralink, which Musk founded in 2016, has yet to implant its device in a human, but aims to operate on 11 people next year and more than 22,000 by 2030, according to Vance, who said he toured the company’s facilities ten times over three years.
It has received approval in the US
Earlier this year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Neuralink approval to begin human trials of its device, which Musk described as a “Fitbit in the skull.”
- Fitbit is a smart watch that monitors several functions. The company, which also had operations in Romania, after the acquisition of Vector Watch in 2017, was acquired in 2021 by Google.
The FDA previously rejected Neuralink’s bid for human trials in March, citing safety concerns, including that the chip could overheat or that the wires connected to it could move.
In September, Neuralink began recruiting for its first human trial.
The company is looking for paralyzed people
The company said in a blog post that it is looking for people who have paralysis in all four limbs due to a spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Ultimately, the company hopes to create a device that creates a kind of symbiosis between humans and machines, allowing people to send messages or play games using only their thoughts.
But first, the company aims to help people with neurological disorders.
Operation of several hours with a surgeon and a robot
Vance, author of the 2015 biography “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future,” said that despite “an outpouring of interest from thousands of potential patients,” the company is still looking for its first volunteer or “someone willing to have a piece of his skull removed by a surgeon so that a large robot could insert a series of super-thin electrodes and wires into his brain.”
Musk’s biographer said it takes “a few hours” for a surgeon to perform the operation and then about 25 minutes for the robot to insert the device, along with its ultra-thin array of 64 different wires.
The device will replace the portion of the skull that was removed. Vance said the threads are so thin that they are about 1/14 the width of a human hair.
He performed 155 operations on animals
Neuralink has so far performed 155 robot-assisted implantation surgeries on a variety of animals, including pigs and monkeys, Vance wrote.
But in typical Musk fashion, the billionaire continued to push for the robot to move faster, as well as for the operation to be performed without human help.
A Neuralink spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Other startups are more advanced
The biographer also noted that Musk emphasized the need to fend off competition from other startups, such as Synchron and Onward, which have already begun human trials.
“Right now, they’re beating us hard,” Musk said after Synchron implanted its first device in a US patient in July 2022.
In December 2021, one of Synchron’s patients in Australia was the first person to send a tweet using only his thoughts, according to the source cited.
Musk also warned that Neuralink needs to accelerate its pace “like the end of the world” to keep up with the possibility that it might not be human-friendly, according to Vance.
“We can’t blow the top three”
However, while Musk’s “maniacal sense of urgency” might work at Tesla or SpaceX, where he slept on the factory floor to meet deadlines, at least one Neuralink executive was cautious.
“We can’t blow the top three. That’s not an option here,” said Shivon Zilis, Neuralink’s director of special projects and the mother of two of Musk’s children, referring to SpaceX’s first three rockets that exploded.