Elon Musk preparing for human trials of brain chips that can help paralysed to walk

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Billionaire Musk says technology will change the world - AP
Billionaire Musk says technology will change the world - AP

Elon Musk is preparing to launch clinical trials in humans of “brain chips” that could help tetraplegic people to walk, in a new technology the billionaire likened to a Black Mirror episode.

A new job posting for a clinical trial director at Mr Musk’s neurotech startup Neuralink, which has already tested the chips on animals, reveals that the company is preparing to take its research to the next stage.

The chip is a "fully implanted, wireless, high-channel count brain-machine interface", which would enable people with paralysis to directly use their neural activity to operate computers and mobile devices, according to the firm.

The first practical applications of Neuralink’s technology will involve treating people with brain disorders and diseases, according to Mr Musk, who says it will “solve important brain and spine problems with a seamlessly implanted device”.

Mr Musk, who co-founded Neuralink in 2016, has promised that the technology “will enable someone with paralysis to use a smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs”.

The Silicon Valley company has already successfully implanted artificial intelligence microchips in the brains of a macaque monkey and a pig.

“You could solve blindness, you could solve paralysis, you could solve hearing,” Mr Musk said during a company presentation in 2020.

“In the future, you’ll be able to save and replay memories. This is increasingly sounding like a Black Mirror episode. Ultimately you could download them into a new body or a robot body.”

He has since claimed that the technology will give people “enhanced abilities”, like being able to stream music directly to their brain.

A 2019 paper written by Neuralink researchers described a brain-computer interface that used an array of “small and flexible electrode ‘threads’,” that are surgically implanted into the brain by a robot.

The device itself is “about the size of a coin” and can apparently replace a piece of the skull without causing any lasting damage to the brain.

Musk said the device would be “implanted flush with skull and charges wirelessly, so you look and feel totally normal”.

Neuralink has previously released a video of a monkey that had been implanted with the chip playing the video game Pong using only its mind.

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