Elon Musk’s Neuralink, the company that purports to implant computer chips in human brains, just took a critical step toward actually following through.
The brain implant firm is officially hiring a clinical trial director, which means Musk’s futuristic firm is finally ready, at least on its own terms, to give next-gen brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) a try.
Of course, it’s hard to imagine being the one for whom the buck stops should anything go monstrously wrong during trials. But on the other hand, if it works, this could be the beginning of a new age of sense re-immersion for countless victims of neurological disorders, brain damage, paralysis, and more.
Neuralink is approaching crucial gateways for proof-of-concept
Whoever fills the trial director position will manage the startup’s long-awaited human trials of its futuristic medical technology, read the listing. Musk has already given the green light for monkeys to play video games using BCI chips in their heads (that is, with their monkey thoughts). But there’s no monkeying around about the vast potential of such devices to substantially improve the quality of life for people who’ve suffered life-blunting neurological disorders, like paralysis.
Based in Fremont, California, the forthcoming director at Neuralink will “work closely with some of the most innovative doctors and top engineers” in addition to “Neuralink’s first Clinical Trial participants,” according to the posting. Whoever gets the gig will also need to build “the team responsible for enabling Neuralink’s clinical research activities,” which involves meeting strict regulations. Needless to say, this will be a high-pressure job.
And we only have to look to Musk to know how tight the deadline might be: in December 2021, Musk told the Wall Street Journal that Neuralink aimed to implant the Neuralink device in a human brain before 2022 is over. Well, here we are, nearing the second month. But this deadline probably isn’t set in stone — Musk is famously overly optimistic about deadlines. In 2019, Musk said during a live presentation of the technology that it would be active in human brains by 2020. That didn’t happen.
Brain-computer interfaces could radically reshape society
Whenever it comes, the first human test of the medical device will have to prove its mettle to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and pass a feasibility test. After being submitted, a further review and approval process with the FDA will continue. And this will be a crucial moment for Musk’s proposed technology. But for now, we can’t say in what stage precisely the device is, and Neuralink (and all of Musk’s firms, really) keep these sorts of details mostly under wraps. Of course, Musk’s isn’t the only firm interested in advancing brain-computer interfaces. Another company called Synchron said its forthcoming feasibility study already received FDA approval. And Synchron, too, is still in the recruiting phase.
There are many obstacles for Elon Musk’s Neuralink to overcome before we can expect to meet people in real life with one of his chips in their skulls. For one, the firm is also hiring a clinical trial coordinator, and looking to fill many other positions. But, if and when we do, there will be an entirely new world of debates to have about what it means to be a cybernetic human because, despite Musk’s bit about everyone already being one from carrying and (figuratively) living in our smartphones, stuffing a computer chip into your brain is crossing an unprecedented line, for better or worse.