Since Elon Musk’s brain chip, Neuralink, started recruiting volunteers for conducting the ‘first-in-human’ clinical trial, it has received “an outpouring of interest from thousands of prospective patients”, according to Ashlee Vance, who wrote a biography for Musk in 2015.
Human trials for Elon Musk’s brain chip, Neuralink, opened the registration for human trials in September, despite amounting safety concerns. Although the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initially rejected the company’s request for human trials in 2022 over concerns the chip could overheat or the wires connecting it to the brain could move around inside the subject’s head, shortly after, in May 2023, the FDA gave Neuralink the green light to conduct its ‘first-in-human’ clinical trial.
Despite the outpouring of interest however, Vance wrote for Bloomberg that the company is still looking for the first person to have the chip implanted, “someone willing to have a chunk of their skull removed by a surgeon so a large robot can insert a series of electrodes and super thin wires into their brain”. Once the first patient is found, the company the company expects surgeries to go on a rolling basis, planning to implant chips in the brain of 11 people in 2024 and over 22,000 people by the end of the decade.
Disregarding any safety concerns or cautions, Musk’s priority is to outdo the competition. Vance quoted the billionaire saying Neuralink needed to pick up its pace “like the world is coming to an end”, as rivals like Synchron and Onward have already successfully implanted brain chips on several patients. Synchron’s implantation method however is much less invasive than Neuralink’s. The device, called Stentrode, is placed on the brain through blood vessels, similarly to how a stent is placed in an artery in a modern angioplasty.
Although Musk only seems concerned with advancing as quickly as possible, Shivon Zilis, AI expert, Neuralink’s director of special projects and the mother of two of Musk’s Children, told Vace that they “can’t blow up the first three. That’s not an option here.” Although Zilis was referring to Musk’s first three SpaceX rockets exploding, considering the macabre reports of the effects the chip has had when tested on monkeys, the joke might be too close for comfort.
A 2022 report by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) in the US accused Musk’s company of subjecting its test animals to “extreme suffering.” According to the organization, 15 of the 23 monkeys in the tests either died or had to be euthanised during the testing of the implants. Moreover, Wired has obtained veterinary reports describing the effects of the implants on the animals, such as “bloody diarrhoea, partial paralysis, and cerebral edema, a condition colloquially known as brain swelling”. Despite all these, the FDA still approved the chip for human trials.