Elon Musk, the iconic boss of Tesla and SpaceX, is taking a step towards transhumanism with the development of Neuralink. The primary goal is to help people with disabilities, especially paralyzed people. An innovation that could be used for many other purposes…
A few years ago, Elon Musk made people smile. Today, he leaves you speechless. For years, we thought that wanting to launch a new global car brand was pure fantasy, especially in electrics. Colossal investments, long-awaited results suggested that sooner or later, a bankruptcy could not be avoided. Instead of the announced disaster, Tesla breaks records one after another.
Elon Musk fascinates as much as he worries. His space projects, his takeover of Twitter (still in progress at the time of writing) and his projects within the framework of Neuralink, which he founded in 2016, give rise to many comments and question the experts. Putting a big blow in the anthill is undoubtedly one of the main qualities of this totally extraordinary entrepreneur.
Neuralink, the “augmented” man
Neuralink’s mission is twofold: to treat neurological diseases, and secondly, to increase human capacities. Wanting is power, an adage that seems to hold true when Elon Musk is in charge. With immense financial means, he is now interested in brain implants and has announced the first tests on human volunteers for this year.
Enough to give food for thought to the world of scientific experts who are concerned about bioethical issues, particularly concerning the safety of the process and the use of data from these chips. The objective is a dream, it must be admitted, it is neither more nor less than creating “direct neuronal interfaces” allowing initially to transform the lives of disabled people, in particular paralyzed people. This type of brain implant will make it possible to control a computer by thought, in order to allow the triggering of movements.
In the starting blocks
However, the first human trials cannot take place before the American Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) has given its authorisation. Elon Musk, however, told the press that he was confident the standards set by Neuralink were extremely high. At the end of April, he tweeted that the first tests would take place on humans by the end of 2022. The recruitment of a director of clinical trials has confirmed this information.
This tiny chip developed by Neuralink must be installed via a robot in a region of the brain controlling movements. The implant serves as an intermediary between thought and gesture by automatically sending the signals necessary to start a movement following stimulation by thought.
The first step for direct brain-digital device communication?
If the first tests will be done on people who have suffered spinal cord injuries in order to make them walk again in fine, it is clear that the final objective is much broader, but also far-tain, the experimental approaches go in effect take time.
Make the impossible possible
For or against, it doesn’t matter, Elon Musk has the power to make people dream, in particular thanks to extraordinary means allowing them to rely on experts for the development of new scientific tools. By talking about colonizing space, overcoming depression or making the paralyzed walk again, he creates a movement of hope and a shock that shifts the lines of the present, forcing the scientific world to question itself. Interest and criticism abound, thereby allowing new opportunities to be considered and a range of scientific methods to achieve the goal to be evaluated.
The entrepreneur’s latest intervention states that “Neural connections in the carrier and sensory cortex passing through the weak/broken connections in the neck and or spine to the neural connections in the spinal cord should theoretically be able to restore functionality. whole body”.
Critics emanate from several spheres, the entrepreneur sometimes takes on the appearance of a fanatic in the face of the criticisms addressed to him. Brain implants would thus be more a matter of science fiction than of reality as to the hopes they raise. Especially since the man is advancing too quickly in relation to the legal environment. The ethical and legal rules are not fixed on this type of device leading to an imbroglio of problems in terms of bioethics.
Some researchers question the seriousness of certain remarks by the entrepreneur who, for example, plans to have a chip implanted to listen to music when there are physical risks, such as hemorrhage among others. Others argue that many patients take relatively high risks for non-life-saving cosmetic surgeries, improving self-esteem through a change in appearance being sufficient motivation. Nothing could be more normal than these debates in the face of a new technology that affects one of the least known organs of the human body, such as the brain.
Overall, however, we see that scientists are interested in the technology developed by Neuralink, while worrying about the fact that today it is private companies that are working on such sensitive ethical issues. Especially since Elon Musk mentioned a diversification of the possible uses of this technology, such as the fight against morbid obesity without the installation of a ring, but also for daily use. Thus, our fingers, which no longer really write, would no longer even have to type on the smartphone…
The competition already exists
There is an element in favor of the fact that Neuralink has not taken the wrong niche, it is that the competition already exists. Thus, the startup Synchron, based in New York has already obtained the famous approval of the FDA to test its implants on humans. A clinical trial will therefore take place on 6 patients with paralysis. Their method consists of the implantation of a neuroprosthesis called Stentrode allowing to capture the signals of the brain to translate them into gestures. The big difference is that the implant is placed in a blood vessel close to the cerebral cortex via a jugular vein, a well-known technique in cardiovascular surgery with stents, which has made it possible to get the FDA approval.
The start-up raised $40 million last year to move forward in the same niche as Neuralink, that of brain-machine interfaces. If this first clinical trial is successful, marketing could take place within five years. Neuralink, Synchron, a new adventure is on the way no matter what, and let’s hope for the best.