Neuralink approved for human trials of brain-computer interface by FDA

Neuralink, Elon Musk’s startup for brain-computer interface (BCI), has reportedly received approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct some form of “in-human” trials for its surgically implanted brain device.

Congratulations Neuralink team!

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 26, 2023

It is currently unclear what type of trials the Neuralink tweet is referring to, as the only other information mentioned was that the company is not yet accepting applicants.

In early 2022, Neuralink was denied FDA approval for human trials due to several safety concerns. However, the company was reportedly working to address these concerns at the time.

The FDA’s apparent reversal of its decision suggests that these concerns have been addressed, and the company should now be free to conduct limited testing of its surgically implanted BCI device.

Elon Musk has described the BCI as a device that would help with certain medical and mobility issues. BCIs are developed to treat various conditions, such as epilepsy, and to provide quality-of-life services for disabled persons, such as the ability to direct a mouse cursor via eye movement or thought.

Musk has also stated that the device would be developed for use by the general public as a general-purpose BCI, allowing humans to interface with machines via thought and prevent them from being replaced by machines.

Until now, Neuralink has only been allowed to conduct testing on laboratory animals such as monkeys and pigs. The company recently faced a federal probe over alleged animal mistreatment, although Neuralink denied any wrongdoing, and the investigation appears to have ended quietly. A separate investigation into the alleged transportation of contaminated devices is ongoing.

With human testing now on the horizon, Musk’s vision for hybrids of humans and artificial intelligence (AI) is one step closer. Developers and entrepreneurs may want to begin considering the applications and use cases of a recreational, surgically implanted BCI.

Musk has also proposed that BCIs would enable people to operate smartphones more quickly with their minds than with their thumbs. Recent research from the University of Texas has shown that AI systems similar to ChatGPT can already be trained to interpret brain waves to a limited extent.

Related: Scientists in Texas developed a GPT-like AI system that reads minds

However, perhaps the most interesting potential use case for the cryptocurrency and blockchain communities comes from Microsoft. Several patents filed in 2018 and 2019 describe a system in which a wearable “sensor” could be engineered to provide “proof-of-work” for cryptocurrency rewards and blockchain mining and validation.

According to one of the patent filings:

“For example, a brain wave or body heat emitted from the user when the user performs the task provided by an information or service provider, such as viewing advertisement or using certain internet services, can be used in the mining process.”

With a BCI like the one described in Neuralink’s original research paper and a paradigm like the one described in the Microsoft patent, it should be possible to validate brain waves natively, thus making it possible to verify “proof-of-work” via thought alone.