Elon Musk presents his startup’s brain implant working in a pig

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Elon Musk presented the animal during a live-stream event to recruit workers for Neuralink, his neuroscience startup.

Elon Musk on Friday showed off a pig whose brain he says has been implanted with a small computer.

Commenting on the pig, Gertrude, Musk said “We have a healthy and happy pig, initially shy but obviously high energy and, you know, kind of loving life, and she’s had the implant for two months.”

Describing Gertrude’s coin-sized implant as “a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires,” the billionaire entrepreneur, presented during a live-stream event to recruit employees for his neuroscience startup Neuralink. His other companies include Tesla and SpaceX.

Musk co-founded Neuralink in 2016 with the goal of creating a wireless brain-machine interface, something scientists hope can help cure neurological conditions and allow people with paralysis to control a computer mouse.

In July 2019, Neuralink unveiled a design that involved implanting tiny electrode “threads” into the brain as well as another device behind the ear. Musk described that the new device is much smaller, does not require the visible ear device, and would be implanted in the brain by a surgical robot under local anesthesia.

The device is removable, Musk said, and he showed off another pig, Dorothy, whom he claimed had had one of the devices implanted and subsequently removed. He said, “What Dorothy illustrates is that you can put in the Neuralink, remove it, and be healthy, happy, and indistinguishable from a normal pig.”

While most of the near-term practical applications of wireless brain-machine interfaces are medical, Musk has also expressed a desire that such devices could help human intelligence compete with artificial intelligence, which he considers an “existential threat.”

At the event, the entrepreneur made a number of outsize claims about the potential capabilities of the technology, including that it could be used to summon a Tesla, play video games, or allow a person with a severed spinal cord to walk again.

Musk did not present any scientific data to support his claims about the pigs or the devices. Neuralink has raised more than $150m in funding, including $100m from Musk himself. Musk said that the company employs roughly 100 people, but could soon expand to 10,000.

Musk also said that Neuralink had achieved FDA Breakthrough Device designation in July, a program that can help expedite the regulatory process for products “that provide for more effective treatment or diagnosis of life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating diseases or conditions”. Such a designation does not mean the device is approved by the FDA.

Neuroscience experts say that while Neuralink’s mission to read and stimulate brain activity in humans is feasible, the company’s timeline appears overly ambitious.

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