The authorization given by the American health authorities last month to Neuralink, a company of Elon Musk, to test brain implants on humans could help improve the lives of some people with disabilities. Beyond that, the billionaire, who is wary of artificial intelligence, intends to make these implants commercial products unrelated to medicine.
On May 25, Neuralink announced that it had obtained authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which decides in particular on matters of clinical trials concerning drugs or medical devices. At the end of 2022, thehe FDA had rejected Neuralin's authorization requestk to conduct human testing of its implants due to fears that the implants' tiny wires might migrate into the brain. The FDA was also concerned that it might not be possible to remove the device without damaging brain tissue.
The clearance comes much later than hoped for by Musk's company, which planned to implant chips in human brains in 2020, before delaying the project until 2022. The monkey trials have been criticized and make the subject of a complaint by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The association says that, according to veterinary reports, 16 of the 23 monkeys died during the experiment., some of whom suffered “facial trauma” or had seizures or experienced “recurrent infections at the implant sites”. In November 2022, Neuralink had presented a monkey capable of typing text thanks to the brain-machine interface allowing to control a virtual keyboard via brain waves. Already in 2021, the company presented a macaque capable of playing a game virtually.
The medical interest of the brain-machine interface
Neuralink isn't the only company that wants to use brain electrical activity to send it to computers that infer expected movements. In May, it was learned that a paraplegic Dutchman since a bicycle accident in 2011 was able to his first steps thanks to an implant which reads his brainwaves and transmits the information to his spine in just 500 milliseconds. In this case, the information is captured on the surface of the motor cortex, whereas the Neuralink procedure is invasive.
Synchron is also placed in the same segment of medical devices with its Stentrode product, a type of stent inserted through the jugular to reach a vein in the motor cortex without the risks of more invasive Neuralink methods that require neurosurgery.
The Neuralink implants are 23 millimeters in diameter and are composed of 1024 electrodes spread over 64 wires which must transmit the waves to a computer or a telephone for example. Tests carried out on sows and monkeys allowed the subjects to move, via a receiver, the information of the chips and to move the paralyzed limbs.
Non-medical use to counter AI
Although Musk is heavily involved in the development of AI, he keeps asking for it to be more regulated to protect humanity.
Convinced that AI could outclass human intelligence and present itself as a threat to the survival of humanity, the billionaire believes that the only solution to protect the latter is to combine the two. According to him, it is by developing the cognitive capacities of man via the machine that he will not be surprised by the AI. An unjustified fear according to Yann Le Cun, vice-president of Meta in charge of AI who spoke on this subject on Europe 1 on the occasion of his visit to France for the 2023 edition of Viva Technology:
“To me, that's completely more than unlikely for a lot of reasons. The first reason being that intelligence is not linked to the will [...] For a machine to have the will to power, this will to power must have been created.”