A few months after gaining FDA approval for human trials, Neuralink is Searching his first test subjects. The initial six-year trial, which the Elon Musk-owned company calls “the PRIME study,” aims to test Neuralink technology designed to help those with paralysis monitoring devices. the company is looking for people with quadriplegia due to a vertical spinal cord injury or ALS who are over 22 years of age and have a “consistent and reliable caregiver” to be part of the study.
The PRIME study (which apparently stands for Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface, although that acronym doesn’t make sense) is meant to investigate three things at once. The first is the N1 implant, Neuralink’s brain-computer device. The second is robot R1, the surgical robot that implants the device. The third is the N1 user application, the software that connects to the N1 and translates brain signals into computing actions. Neuralink says it plans to test both the safety and effectiveness of all three parts of the system.
To be clear: This is not the all-brain computer that Musk has been talking about for years. Musk has spent years talking about the potential of telepathy and using Neuralink to help humans keep up with AI, and the system Neuralink plans to test doesn’t come close to that ambition.
Researchers have long tested implants that allow people with paralysis to control computers and other devices as well. For example, two recently published studies showed that brain-computer interfaces could help ALS patients communicate by typing on a computer.
This is not the whole brain computer Musk has been talking about for years
Still, the study is a big step for Neuralink, which won FDA approval in May after being rejected by the agency in early 2022.
Neuralink has also been a magnet for controversy over the years, both over Musk’s overpromising and the company’s internal practices. His treatment of monkeys in testing has repeatedly been a problem, for one thing: Musk recently said that testing was only done on “terminal monkeys” and that no monkeys died as a result of a Neuralink implant, but regulators have found many issues. with his treatment of animals. The company is also under investigation for illegally transporting devices with pathogens extracted from monkeys.
Those who participate in the PRIME study will first participate in an 18-month study that involves nine visits with researchers. After that, they will spend at least two hours a week in brain-computer interface research sessions and then make 20 more visits over the next five years. Neuralink doesn’t say how many subjects it’s looking for or when it plans to start the study, but it does say it only plans to offset “study-related costs,” such as travel to and from the study site. (Also unclear: where that location is. Neuralink only says it received approval from “our first hospital.”)
As with so many things about Neuralink, it can be difficult to separate the company’s promises from its plans, making it difficult to know exactly what will come out of the PRIME study and when. But it looks like we’ll soon get our first look at what happens when you let Elon Musk fully into your head.