Today's generation is closer than any other to living in the cybernetic future that scriptwriters, gaming studios, and dystopian novelists collectively seared into society's conscience. We've long had medical devices like electronic brain implants and pacemakers to help diseased patients better combat pathological disorders and disabilities. Still, certain world visionaries hope to expand the capabilities of devices like these.
For the brain, Elon Musk's Neuralink hopes to develop implantable technology that can directly interface with a patient's neurological system and communicate with external computers. Neuralink is hopeful the technology can eventually help contribute to cures for ailments that can cause blindness and paralysis, among others.
Pursuing the venture since 2016, Neuralink has understandably stumbled over regulatory roadblocks amidst concerns about the safety of its unorthodox approach to medicine. Early animal trials reportedly raised red flags due to alarming mortality rates among test subjects, and controversies surrounding the trial's processes have not helped its cause, causing the food and drug administration to block human trials in the United States earlier in 2022.
However, Reuters reports that Neuralink is looking to take significant steps to solidify its research efforts by approaching the Arizona-based neurosurgery firm Barrow Neurological Institute to explore a partnership to host clinical trials. Barrow boasts as one of the best hospitals for neurology and neurosurgery by publications like Newsweek, which ranked it 10th in the United States and 15th worldwide based on research backed by Statista.
Perhaps the most tricky organs to operate on, ordinary brain surgeries are still considered extraordinary risks, so neither side can afford to step carelessly in this arena. Drawing the ire of animal rights activists is its own excruciating migraine. Still, the stakes are much higher when operating on humans, even when would-be participants sign away their medical protections to join trials like these.
Musk's eventual plans for Neuralink to extend beyond pure health. In addition to stamping out disease, improving cognitive function, and increasing general quality of life, he's hopeful the technology will eventually evolve to allow us to control devices by thought and even upload our memories to the cloud, a future scenario several sci-fi creatives have already dreamed up, for better or worse.
It would be an endearing gift to humanity, to say the least, but one that most can certainly agree shouldn't be rushed out of the lab. For Neuralink to approach any such institution, it must be confident that it'll eventually be able to carry out these trials on human subjects safely.
Despite the hurdles, Musk raised a six-month window for trial approvals back in December 2022. Hence, the timing of today's news surely piques curiosity about the project's rapid movement of late. One major misstep could perpetually harm the technology's future potential, so we'll wait with bated breath to see just how serious Neuralink is about getting the basics right.