The company will seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to start clinical trials on humans as early as next year, according to President Max Hodak. The goal is to drill four 8mm holes into paralyzed patients’ skulls and insert implants that will give them the ability to control computers and smartphones using their thoughts. Yes, really. “A lot of people have written this off like it’s impossible,” says Hodak. “There will be great things to come in this field in the next decade, and they should take it seriously.”
Neuralink, which has raised more than $150 million from investors, including at least $100 million from Chief Executive Officer Musk, is betting that millions of people will eventually elect to become cybernetically enhanced. “This is going to sound pretty weird, but ultimately, we will achieve symbiosis with artificial intelligence,” Musk says at a news conference Tuesday night in San Francisco. “This is not a mandatory thing. It is a thing you can choose to have if you want. This is something that I think will be really important on a civilization-level scale.”
Philosophers, sci-fi enthusiasts, and daydreamers have long imagined what it might be like to turbocharge their brainpower or read someone else’s thoughts. Lately, a number of startups have tried to find out. Companies such as CTRL-labs and Kernel are working on external devices to detect neurons’ firing patterns from outside a person’s body and transmit them to a computer. The next level up is figuring out how to safely insert a device into the brain, where the neural signals are the strongest and the process can go much faster.
This has proved tricky, to say the least. Inserting electrical wires and other devices into the brain requires a great deal of precision. And the brain tends to treat probes as foreign invaders, forming scar tissue around the wires and muddying their ability to carry clear signals. People in dire circumstances have been willing to implant devices that stimulate parts of their brain to, say, regain some vision or tame tremors caused by Parkinson’s disease. But these processes often carry serious long-term risks. Neuralink’s goal is to leave its sort of mind-reading computer sitting safely and indefinitely inside someone’s
head. “All of this will occur actually quite slowly,” Musk says. “It’s not going to be like suddenly, Neuralink will have this incredible neural lace and start taking over people’s brains. It will take a long time, and you will see it coming.”