Elon Musk unveiled the design of his company’s Neuralink brain implant and the robot surgeon used to implant it which is hoped will help people suffering from paralysis.
Mr Musk showed off the latest version of the device, which is initially expected to be used to treat brain injuries and disability, at an event on Friday.
In a livestreamed demonstration the entrepreneur showed off a pig, named Gertrude, which he said had had a Neuralink implant for two months. The company has also been testing on monkeys and rats, he has said at earlier events.
“As you can see, a healthy and happy pig,” he said. A graphic showed the implant’s ability to predict the movements taken by a pig on a treadmill to a “high degree of accuracy,” Mr Musk said. Another graphic showed electrodes influencing neurons.
In humans, Mr Musk said the device would connect to an app on a mobile phone using Bluetooth, with a range of five to ten metres. It would have a full-day battery life and charge overnight.
He described it as “like a Fitbit for your skull with tiny wires”. It would be installed by a surgical robot also developed by the company.
In July, he said, Neuralink received breakthrough device designation from the US Food and Drug Administration, a programme which involves the regulator engaging with the company to aid development and regulatory progress. This means they are able to start clinical trials.
Matthew MacDougall, head neurosurgeon at Neuralink, said the device was limited to the cortical surface, the outer layers of the brain, which could allow it to control motor intentions, sensory information, hearing and visual processing.
“Our first trial involves patients with spinal cord injury – paraplegia, tetraplegia. We plan to enroll a small number of patients,” he said.
While it would initially be expensive, he said the company wanted to get the price down to a few thousand dollars “inclusive of the automated surgery” and similar to the cost of Lasik laser eye surgery.
Mr Musk also repeated some of the more outlandish claims for the device, which have attracted scepticism.
Mr Musk said he expected people would be able to play computer games, unlock their Tesla and save and replay memories in the future using a Neuralink.
“If you have a whole-brain interface, everything that’s encoded in memory, you could upload,” he said.
Concerns have also been raised about the potential for the devices to be vulnerable to hackers and for brain data to be exploited by bad actors.
In previous interviews he has also claimed that the devices could make human language obsolete by having people telepathically communicate within the next decade.
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World news – GB – Elon Musk reveals functioning brain-reading implant Neuralink in ‘healthy’ pig