Elon Musk's brain-chip firm, Neuralink, has announced that it has received approval from the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) to conduct its first tests on humans. The company's aim is to help restore vision and mobility to people by linking their brains to computers. Neuralink hopes to use its microchips to treat conditions such as paralysis and blindness, and to help certain disabled people use computers and mobile technology. The chips have been tested in monkeys and are designed to interpret signals produced in the brain and relay information to devices via Bluetooth. However, experts have cautioned that Neuralink's brain implants will require extensive testing to overcome technical and ethical challenges if they are to become widely available.
Neuralink's initial aim was to start planting chips in human brains in 2020, in order to honour a pledge made the year before. It later vowed to get started in 2022. The company was co-founded by Mr Musk in 2016 and has repeatedly overestimated the speed at which it can execute its plans. The FDA had earlier rejected Neuralink's bid to win approval on safety grounds, according to a report in March by the Reuters news agency that cited multiple current and former employees. Neuralink says it does not have immediate plans to start recruiting participants, but promised more information "soon" on plans to sign up trial participants. Its website promises that "safety, accessibility and reliability" are all priorities during its engineering process.
The announcement on FDA approval for human tests follows recent news of a similar breakthrough involving brain implants by Swiss researchers. A paralysed man from the Netherlands was able to walk simply by thinking about it - thanks to a system of implants which wirelessly transmit his thoughts to his legs and feet. Neuralink hopes that its technology will one day be able to help many people and has talked of an "important first step" towards that goal.