Elon Musk's Neuralink unveils new prototype V.2 brain implant, promises to start trials 'soon'

Neuralink, the neurotechnology company founded by Elon Musk, has unveiled its long-awaited second-generation brain implant, which the billionaire entrepreneur claims will soon be ready for human trials.

The device, dubbed the "N1 Link"chip, is designed to be a less invasive alternative to existing brain implants, which often require drilling into the skull and cannot be removed without causing significant damage to the brain. According to Musk and a number of prominent neuroscientists who spoke at the event, the N1 chip is revolutionary because it can be inserted into the brain with a "keyhole" procedure, enabling surgeons to implant it in under an hour. Further, Neuralink's new device is wireless, meaning it doesn't require an external cable to be plugged into the brain, thus reducing the risk of infections and headaches.

The highlight of the evening was the demonstration of the new device, which was performed on a pig named Gertrude. Musk emphasized that the pig was not harmed during the demonstration and that she was "happy and healthy." The demonstration showed Gertrude, who had been implanted with the N1 chip several months ago, undergoing a series of tasks. These included activating a computer mouse with her mind, which moved across a screen, and causing a keyboard to play a sequence of tones that roughly translated to the alphabet, suggesting that she was "thinking" letters similar to how a person would move their mouth to articulate words.

Musk went on to declare that the company plans to start human trials "soon," without specifying a precise timeline. The company has already conducted some preliminary experiments with volunteers and is currently seeking approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin more extensive trials. Neuralink has already begun recruiting for a Clinical Trial Director and a Clinical Trial Manager.

During the presentation, Musk also announced that the company is developing a new, larger device called the N2 chip, which will allow the implantation of more sophisticated capabilities. This would include neural imaging, directly transmitting sensory information to the brain, and even the potential to allow people to "feel" emotions and experiences, as one expert explained during the presentation.

This would be achieved through "hundreds" of tiny wires on the N2 chip, each of which would be thinner than a human hair and capable of transmitting signals from the sensory receptors in the body to the brain. The larger chip would be aimed at those with severe spinal cord injuries and would be designed to be implanted higher up on the spinal column.

According to Musk, the N2 chip is aimed to be ready for human trials in 2024. However, at this stage, it should be noted that Neuralink has repeatedly missed ambitious target dates disclosed in its presentations.

Neuralink's event showcased an impressive list of neuroscientists and engineers who were invited to explain the advancements and provide expert commentary. They included:

  • Elena Polyakova, the chief neuroscience officer at Neuralink
  • Steven Novella, a neurologist and professor at Yale University
  • Andrew Schwartz, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh
  • Rob Tucker, a professor of biomedical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University

All of these experts spoke excitedly about the immense potential of the technology and affirmed that the field of neuroscience and the understanding of the brain would be vastly expanded by these kinds of innovations. They also provided critical commentary on what the technology could mean for medical treatments and for helping people with disabilities to improve their lives.

However, the demonstration was not without controversy, particularly around the well-known issue of animal welfare and the use of pigs in scientific demonstrations. Numerous animal rights activists interrupted the presentation with pleas to stop experimenting on animals.

Neuralink has not detailed how many animals have been used in its experiments, but has said that its animals are "paid special care and affection," and that devices are only implanted in animals that "indicate health and happiness."

Overall, Neuralink's event certainly showcased impressive technological advancements that are clearly on the path to human trials. However, much of what was demonstrated still needs further testing and verification, and the broader debate around animal welfare will continue to be a critical conversation that the company will need to navigate.

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