Neuralink Human Trials Set to Proceed, Despite Ethics Concerns

Elon Musk’s Neuralink is set to begin human trials, and the company is announcing that it’s looking for human applicants to test its controversial brain-computer interface. “The PRIME Study (short for Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface)…aims to evaluate the safety of our implant (N1) and surgical robot (R1) and assess the initial functionality of our BCI for enabling people with paralysis to control external devices with their thoughts,” the company wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.

According to Neuralink, it secured an investigational device exemption from the FDA in May and is ready to test both its interface and the robot it will use to implant the device on humans. “If you have quadriplegia and are interested in exploring new ways of controlling your computer, you may qualify,” a brochure detailing the trial says.

The brochure includes a picture of the R1 Robot that does the surgery. “During the study, the R1 Robot will be used to surgically place the N1 Implant in a region of the brain that controls movement intention,” it says. “Participants will be asked to use the N1 Implant and N1 User App to control a computer and provide feedback about the system.”

According to the brochure, the study will take place over the course of six years. The initial period involves nine at home visits spaced out over 18 months. The pitch is that an app will translate the user’s thoughts into actions on a computer. “Once surgically placed, the N1 Implant is cosmetically invisible,” the brochure says. “It records and transmits brain activity with the goal of enabling you to control a computer. The N1 Implant records neural activity through 1024 electrodes distributed across 64 threads, each thinner than a human hair.”

Before these human trials, Nueralink conducted tests on monkeys. In 2021, the company shared a video of one of the monkeys allegedly controlling the video game pong with its mind. Even if Musk’s company truly succeeded, it may have come at a terrible cost. Reports from the trial have been grim, and U.S. federal investigators launched an investigation into animal cruelty in 2022. It’s still ongoing.

The animal rights group, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, claimed that only seven of the 23 monkeys used in the early Neuralink experiment survived. According to Musk, those monkeys were already close to death. “No monkey has died as a result of a Neuralink implant,” he said on Twitter on September 10. “First our early implants, to minimize risk to healthy monkeys, we chose terminal moneys (close to death already).”


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