(Reuters) – Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s neuroscientist start-up Neuralink is expected to detail its latest innovations for implanting tiny computer chips into the human brain on Friday, fueling expectations of scientists watching the company closely .
Co-founded by Musk in 2016, Neuralink aims to implant wireless brain-computer interfaces that include thousands of electrodes into the most complex human organ to help cure neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and spinal cord injury and ultimately merge humanity with artificial intelligence.
The company said it would provide an update on its work during a live webcast on Friday afternoon, with Musk tweeting that the presentation will include a “working Neuralink device.”
Musk, who frequently warns of the risks of artificial intelligence, is no stranger to the industries revolution as chief executive of electric vehicle company Tesla Inc and aerospace maker SpaceX.
During a Neuralink presentation in July 2019, Musk said the company aims to receive regulatory approval to implant its device in human trials by the end of this year.
“It has a very good purpose, which is to cure important diseases – and ultimately secure the future of humanity as a civilization from AI,” Musk said at the time.
The company promises to implant a sensor about eight millimeters in diameter, or smaller than a finger, potentially under local anesthesia only. Using a sophisticated robot, flexible wires or wires smaller than a human hair are implanted in areas of the brain responsible for motor and sensory functions.
Neuroscientists have said that while Neuralink’s mission to read and stimulate brain activity in humans is achievable, the company’s timeline looks too ambitious.
“Anyone in the field would be very impressed if they actually showed data from a device implanted into a human,” said Graeme Moffat, a neuroscience researcher at the University of Toronto.
Small devices that electronically stimulate nerves and areas of the brain to treat hearing loss and Parkinson’s disease have been implanted in humans for decades.
Neuroscientists have also conducted brain implant trials with a small number of people who have lost control of bodily functions due to spiral cord injuries or neurological disorders like stroke. Humans in these trials could control robotic limbs or small objects, like a computer keyboard or mouse cursor, but have yet to accomplish more sophisticated tasks.
Most of the current cutting edge research on the brain-machine interface is conducted in animals, the scientists note, with safety concerns and lengthy regulatory approval procedures preventing larger human trials.
The science of the brain-machine interface has seen a sharp increase in investment and business activity over the past five years, largely due to advances in hardware, wireless, and signaling technologies.
But scientists still face a series of issues, including preventing tissue scarring around the implant, the quality of the measurements, and developing machine learning algorithms to interpret brain signals, said Professor Amy Orsborn. Assistant at the University of Washington studying neural interfaces. .
“I don’t think we know what the silver bullet is, we only know the problem,” Orsborn told Reuters.
(Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Joe White and Dan Grebler)