Elon Musk's Neuralink unveils new prototype V.2 brain implant, says human trials 'hopefully soon'

Last night, Neuralink, a neurotechnology company aimed at developing implants that can merge human brains with computers, held a live stream presentation to unveil their latest developments and prototype of their "V.2" brain implant. During the presentation, founder and CEO Elon Musk and his team highlighted the company's advancements and demonstrated the implant procedure on pigs.

Elon Musk states that the company is focused on solving neurodegenerative diseases and addressing the phenomenon of cognitive decline through the development of Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs).

"If you can sense what is happening in the brain and transmit this information outside the body, and if you can do this in a non-disruptive way, you could actually amplify human capability," Musk said during the presentation.

"Once you have the neural link, you can do quite complicated things like headsets for immersive VR, augmented reality," he added. "You could have a memory extension, you could have a phone interface that's using your neural signals rather than digging through your pocket to find your phone."

Among the key improvements from the V.1 prototype is a smaller design – the new implant is approximately 23x16mm, making it round and smooth-edged for easier implantation and more comfortable long-term use. According to the team, the new prototype can also record neural activity with higher fidelity and can be implanted more efficiently using a novel laser ablation tool.

Neuralink also plans to take a proactive approach in seeking regulatory approval for human trials. While the team has not yet partnered with medical researchers to identify a target disease or disorder, Musk is hopeful that the company will be able to move into human trials with the V.2 prototype "hopefully soon".

"We're clearly not going to put a device into someone who's healthy," Musk said. "If I were to guess at this point, [it would be for] somebody who has a serious neurological disease like ALS, and something that's progressively worse, like losing the ability to type, or losing the ability to move a hand or something like that."

When asked whether Neuralink would ever sell or compromise user data, Musk made it clear that data ownership and privacy are core aspects of the company's philosophy.

"If you want privacy, you want encryption, and you want your data to be yours alone, you should not have to trust some giant company to not abuse your information," he said. "At Neuralink, we're building the ecosystem to be completely open source, so you can inspect the code, you can see exactly what's going on, and you can determine whether or not you're comfortable with it."

Musk also emphasized that the company's long-term vision reaches far beyond simply treating diseases, envisioning a future where Neuralink's technology can enhance the cognitive abilities of healthy individuals.

"I should say, this is not just about restoring neurological function," he said. "This is about a fine-grained merger of biological and digital intelligence."

While the presentation showcased significant advancements, Neuralink is still facing challenges, such as refining the surgical robot that will be used to perform the implant surgeries. Musk stated that the company is working with the National Institute of Health's (NIH) Brain Initiative to develop the "next-generation" robot, which will be sleeker and smaller than their current prototype.

Additionally, the company has not yet tested the device on primates or humans, and the team did not provide specific details on the concrete steps being taken to initiate human trials. Despite these unknowns, Musk remains optimistic about the company's progress and the potential for exponential growth.

"I think most people can really sense there's a slow-motion crisis happening around us, in terms of the cognitive decline in the West and the rise of AI," he said. "I think getting a neural link would be profoundly psychological and profound for individuals, to be able to deal with that."

In a Q&A session at the end of the presentation, Musk also hinted at the possibility of using the same technology for animals susceptible to extinction, like the black rhinoceros.

"We could actually have a bit of a tiger summit, where you have a ton of cool, smart people, and they're all linked up, and they're all talking telepathically about, 'Okay, how do we save the rhinos?' or 'How do we save the whales?' or 'How do we solve this problem?' and it would be an effective summit," he said.

Neuralink has attracted significant scrutiny since its founding in 2016, particularly surrounding the ethics and safety of developing invasive brain-computer interfaces. The company's original goal of implanting the first devices in humans by the end of 2020 was not achieved, though the team emphasized that they took their time to ensure they were not rushing regulatory processes.

"I think we have a chance of creating a better future for humanity than otherwise would be the case," Musk said. "Obviously, nothing is perfect, and there are sure to be challenges along the way, but I'm optimistic."

The presentation wrapped up with a demo of the implant procedure on a pig named Gertrude, who underwent the surgery live on air without any apparent discomfort. With the V.2 prototype officially unveiled, Neuralink will likely continue attracting both acclaim and scrutiny as it moves ahead with its ambitious goals.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a direct endorsement of Neuralink, and opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of Nvidia.