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Neuralink Implant Moving Toward Human Trials

Elon Musk hopes coin-sized computer implants may soon bring sight to the visually impaired and movement to the paralyzed.

However, the first project for his Neuralink Corporation is to win approval for a brain-computer interface (BCI) to be tested in humans.  This technology could help someone who, for instance, had a stroke to be able to communicate with their thoughts, making the neuronal spikes from the brain readable by a computer.

Testing has been going on for a while, but human trials have not yet begun for Musk’s company.  A year ago, however, Neuralink demonstrated that a monkey could play a computer game simply by thinking, with a brain chip translating its thoughts into moves in the game.

Video Spotlight:  

This post is based on the Fortune article, Musk’s Neuralink plans to imbed coin-sized computer brain implants into human patients in 6 months, by Ashlee Vance and Bloomberg, December 1, 2022; the Reuters article, Elon Musk expects Neuralink’s brain chip to begin human trials in 6 months, by Rachael Levy, December 1, 2022; and the YouTube video in the Spotlight. Image source: sdecoret/Shutterstock

Discussion Questions:

1.  Where is this technology in the research and development process?

Guidance: So far, Musk’s company has been testing the BCI implants on primates and pigs.  It is not the first to market, however, with its ideas.  Competitor, Synchron has actually implanted its own small devices into five people in the U.S. and Australia, but the capabilities of the implants are more limited than what Musk has set his sights on.

Unlike its competitors, however, Neuralink’s devices have more processing power.  Though they do require more invasive surgery, with a part of the skull needing to be removed, Musk hopes they will yield better results and restore more functions to their recipients.

To date, Neuralink has missed some key internal deadlines and now hopes to win approval for human trials in six months.  Musk is concerned about the pace at which AI is advancing and doesn’t want to miss the boat.  He is urging his engineers on, asking them to develop this broader, ground-breaking technology for vision and movement in record time.

2. Where in the product life cycle is this type of BCI technology?

Guidance: This type of BCI technology is just moving from the development phase, where research is turned into usable products, and is beginning to enter the introductory stage of the product life cycle.  This is when a product is first brought to market, and it is an expensive time for the company.  Marketing and generating customer awareness and trust can cost a substantial amount of money.  Competitors may fight to dominate in the early days of a truly new technology, and it is difficult to say who will end up surviving.  Musk, however, boldly envisions a day when this technology will be in the mature phase of the product life cycle with robots performing brain implant surgeries safely and quickly, eventually even as an outpatient procedure.

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