Neuralink, Elon Musk’s brain implant startup, has gained approval in the United States for human trials. These are the key facts about the billionaire’s dream project that seeks to enable direct communication between the human brain and computers.
– Future cyborg? –
Founded by Musk and a team of scientists and engineers in 2016, Neuralink is a neurotechnology company dedicated to building direct communication channels between the brain and machines.
The aim is to enhance human capabilities, treat neurological disorders like ALS or Parkinson’s, and ultimately achieve a symbiotic relationship between humans and artificial intelligence.
The technology would work primarily through an implant called “Link,” a device the size of five stacked coins that would be placed inside the human brain through invasive surgery.
This hardware would have electrodes capable of recording neural activity and stimulating specific regions of the brain.
Researchers hope the implant’s capabilities could also treat paralysis, spinal cord injuries and brain disorders.
Link could blur the line between human consciousness and computation – an idea that has long excited technology experts while fueling nightmares of a dystopian future dominated by cyborgs.
Last year, 78% of US adults surveyed by Pew Research said they probably or definitely would not want a chip like this implanted to process information more quickly.
– Competitors –
According to data firm Pitchbook, Neuralink, headquartered in California, has more than 400 employees and has already raised at least US$ 363 million (R$ 1.81 billion, at current prices).
Though he makes the most of the headlines, Musk is far from alone in this field, which is known as brain-machine or brain-computer interface research.
With delays, the tycoon would have sought to join the developer of implants Synchron for a possible investment. Its implant version does not require cuts in the skull for installation, unlike Link.
Synchron, which is headquartered in Australia, implanted its first device in a US patient in July 2022.
Another implant project, this one for research purposes, is by the company Blackrock Neurotech, which also received authorization from the American regulator, the FDA, for testing in humans.
One of Neuralink’s co-founders, meanwhile, split from Musk and raised venture capital for his own project at a startup called Science.
Other companies looking to enter the sector include BrainCo, Kernel and CTRL-Labs, which is now part of the virtual reality division of Meta (parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp).
– Animal testing –
The FDA’s approval for human testing is a huge relief for Neuralink, which until then had been testing its implants in monkeys and other animals.
Reuters reported in December that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) had launched an investigation into possible violations of animal protection legislation at Neuralink.
According to the report, the company has killed around 1,500 animals since 2018, including more than 280 sheep, pigs and monkeys, to carry out research. Queried by the AFP at the time, the USDA declined to confirm or deny the information.
Competitor Synchron killed about 80 sheep as part of its research, according to documents seen by Reuters.
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