Elon Musk says Neuralink is about ‘six months’ from human trials


Elon Musk wants to put chips in human brains.

At a flashy “show and tell” event on Wednesday night, Musk for at least the third time said that the company is nearing human trials for his company Neuralink, which is developing implants that could connect the human brain to computers. He said he has filed “most” of the required paperwork with the Food and Drug Administration and that he aims to start human trials in roughly six months.

“We are now confident that the Neuralink device is ready for humans,” Musk said Wednesday on Twitter.

Still, experts have been skeptical of Musk’s announcements amid a broader field of brain implant research. It is unclear whether the FDA is considering a request to begin human trials, and in the past, Musk has said trials would begin in 2020 and later, in 2022.

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The event — which was delayed by a month — comes amid a busy time for the world’s richest man. Musk acquired Twitter for $44 billion in late October and has demanded workers there commit to being “hardcore,” tweeting a photo of a late-night session with engineers. On Thursday, Tesla is expected to deliver its first electric semi truck. He’s also CEO of rocket company SpaceX.

Some analysts and investors are worried Musk is stretched too thin. Others noted Musk has a history of setting bold deadlines that he doesn’t meet.

SpaceX has missed deadlines for sending a rocket to Mars. Tesla unveiled its electric pickup truck, dubbed the Cybertruck, in 2019 — promising unbreakable windows that broke onstage — but the company has yet to deliver the vehicle to customers, despite an initial 2021 production estimate.

Musk showed a video at the event where he said a monkey was using its mind to control a computer cursor and type. Neuralink’s use of animals in testing has angered activists and sparked claims that the company is harming animals through “sloppy experiments” that have resulted in infections, seizures, paralysis and internal bleeding.

“When it comes to Neuralink, Elon Musk is just a modern-day P.T. Barnum,” said Ryan Merkley, director of research advocacy at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an advocacy group. “He’s a showman who makes big promises while hiding the grisly details from the public.”

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Neuralink technology is similar to research being done by others on how to convert brain signals into action. In July, Neuralink competitor Synchronimplanted its device in a patient in the United States for the first time. The company received regulatory clearance for human trials in 2021.

The Wednesday night event also involved a big push in recruitment. Touting the jobs open at the company, Musk said it’s not necessary for people to know about biology or neuroscience to work for his brain implant start-up.

“When you look at the skills that are needed to make Neuralink work,” he said, “it’s actually a lot of the same skills that are required to make a modern smartwatch or phone work.”

Anna Wexler, an assistant professor and expert on medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, said on Twitter after Musk’s event that concerns and questions about Neuralink remain.

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While Musk shared data and reflected on the challenges Neuralink faces, the event “still lacked nuanced acknowledgment of the major scientific challenges that lie ahead.”

Wexler said that it’s likely Musk will face a tough battle with federal regulators in getting Neuralink approved, and it could take a while.

“Get your popcorn ready!” she added on Twitter. “I predict we’re in for several years of very public clashes between the FDA and Elon Musk. The FDA has many restrictions on speech for device manufacturers and @elonmusk has a demonstrated disregard for federal speech restrictions.”

Faiz Siddiqui contributed to this report.