Elon Musk says he's tested his brain microchip on monkeys and it enabled one to control a computer with its mind

Elon Musk E3SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.REUTERS/Mike Blake
  • Elon Musk's neurotechnology company Neuralink pulled the veil back on its ambitions to implant chips in people's brains during a live presentation on Tuesday.
  • During a Q&A, Musk surprised his Neuralink colleagues by announcing that the firm had tested its technology on monkeys with some success.
  • Musk said "a monkey has been able to control a computer with its brain," although he did not elaborate further on what this involved.
  • Neuralink President Max Hodak said he wished the company didn't have to experiment on animals but it's a necessary "step in the process."
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Elon Musk took his colleagues by surprise with an unplanned announcement at a presentation by his secretive neurotechnology company Neuralink on Tuesday.

Musk cofounded Neuralink in 2016 and its goal is to create a chip which could enable a "brain-computer interface." And according to Musk, the company's already had some success  - with monkeys.

During the 90-minute event, Musk and various senior staffers at Neuralink presented the company's ambition - to design a chip capable of being implanted in the human brain which could both receive and transmit signals to the organ.

The near-term goal would be to treat various serious brain disorders, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, although ultimately Musk's ambition is to achieve "symbiosis with artificial intelligence."

Read more: Elon Musk's company Neuralink plans to connect people's brains to the internet by next year using a procedure he claims will be as safe and easy as LASIK eye surgery

The current design takes the form of a chip implanted behind the ear, connected to electrode threads about one quarter the width of a human hair, which are threaded into the brain where they can stimulate the neurons or nerve cells.

Neuralink chipThe chip sits behind the ear, while electrodes are threaded into the brain.Neuralink/YouTube

Responding to a question about whether the company had conducted any animal testing, Musk replied that it had carried out tests on rats and monkeys, adding that the company's work with monkeys has been done in conjunction with the University of California. "The results have been very positive," Musk said.

Neuralink's senior scientist Philip Sabes said some of the results would be available in a paper "soon," but Musk cut across: "A monkey has been able to control a computer with its brain, just FYI." He did not elaborate as to exactly how said monkey had controlled the computer.

"I didn't realise we were running that result today, but there it goes," said Neuralink President Max Hodak, laughing. "The monkey's going to come out of the bag," replied Musk.

Both Musk and Hodak seemed cognizant of the sensitive nature of animal testing. "We wish that we didn't have to work with animals, we just wish that wasn't a step in the process, but it is," said Hodak. Musk also said that the company hopes to start human testing before the end of next year.

You can watch Elon Musk's full Neuralink presentation here:

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