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Today’s Cache | Elon Musk’s brain chip implant plan gains momentum
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Elon Musk’s plan to implant a chip into a human head is gaining momentum

December 05, 2022 03:41 pm | Updated 08:14 pm IST

Elon Musk. File.

Elon Musk. File.

(This article is part of Today’s Cache, The Hindu’s newsletter on emerging themes at the intersection of technology, innovation and policy. To get it in your inbox, subscribe here.)

Elon Musk has been evangelising the idea of grafting a microprocessor into the human body for quite some time now. Since 2017, his startup, Neuralink, has been making attempts to implant a computer chip into the human head. Before it could fit a chip on a human, the company has tested a prototype hardware on monkeys.

It used Macaque monkeys to tests its Bluetooth-enabled implantable chips to enable them to communicate with computers through a small receiver. A monkey, called Pager, was tested with the device. Neuralink claimed the animal could play the computer game Pong using just its mind.

Musk’s AI company said the chip achieved its goal after it sent the information from the monkey’s neurons into a decoder, which was used to predict the monkey’s intended hand movements. That enabled the output from the decoder to be used to move the cursor, instead of Pager manipulating the joystick.

Later, reports emerged that monkeys died while they were part of the test. Musk’s company denied any cruelty to the animals.

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, an animal rights group, had accused Neuralink of mistreating test monkeys. The group alleged that the company subjected the test monkeys to torture. They cited rashes, self-mutilation, and brain haemorrhage as evidence. According to a report by Daily Mail, a total of 23 monkeys were part of the experiment. Of the 23, 15 monkeys died or were euthanised as a result of complications, or “inadequate animal care.”

Neuralink partnered with the University of California, Davis for its tests between 2017 and 2020. And during this period, the academic institution claimed it followed research protocols. UC Davis reportedly ended its partnership with Elon Musk’s Neuralink in 2020. And since then, the Musk-owned startup has been on its own.

Last week, at an event which the world’s richest man used as a stage to hire talent for his startup, the company said it had submitted “most of the paperwork [on the brain chip] to the FDA” and noted that in about six months they would be able to put their first brain chip on to a human skull.

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