Elon Musk’s Neuralink Set to ‘Show and Tell’ Latest Brain-Computer Advances at Event

Elon Musk

‘s neuroscience startup Neuralink Corp. is expected to give a progress report on its brain-implant technology in a highly anticipated streamed event Wednesday night. 

In a tweet last week, the company teased a demo for the event, which begins at 9 p.m. New York time, with a short video that slowly spelled out the message “please join us for a show and tell.” Some outside researchers said the video may indicate that a Neuralink device has been used to decode brain signals to type words on a screen, although they speculated that it would most likely be through a monkey or a wearable device. 

Neuralink has been testing its implant technology on nonhuman primates for several years, including in April 2021, when the company released a video showing that a monkey implanted with two Neuralink devices could play a videogame called Pong as the device translated its brain activity into commands with the help of machine-learning software.

Tesla’s Elon Musk told the WSJ CEO Council Summit that he hopes to have the implantable technology in humans by 2022. Photo: Ralph Alswang for The Wall Street Journal

Other researchers have managed to use a brain-computer interface to enable monkeys to produce words on a computer screen. In 2017, a research group at Stanford University in California showed two monkeys could type out words and sentences by clicking on letters with a cursor. Technology also developed by that lab to decode speech from neural activity was licensed by both Neuralink and brain-implant company Blackrock Neurotech in 2021.

Last year, another group of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco used an experimental brain implant to translate a patient’s brain signals into words on a screen. Synchron Inc., a neurotech company developing a brain implant that is threaded into the brain’s blood vessels instead of interacting with brain tissue itself, has allowed five patients to type, according to

Tom Oxley,

the company’s chief executive.


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A Neuralink spokesperson declined to comment on the details of the presentation ahead of the event, which they said was for recruiting purposes. Currently, Neuralink has dozens of openings listed on its website, including for a clinical-research coordinator who would support its clinical-trial efforts and for engineers to develop hardware and software for its implants and surgical robots. 

In 2019, Neuralink said it was putting together an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which oversees medical devices, including neural implants, to start testing in humans. At the time, Neuralink said its goal was to use its tech platform, which includes a surgical robot that threads its tiny proprietary electrodes, or brain-signal recording wires, into the brain, to treat neurological conditions like movement disorders, spinal-cord injuries and blindness. 

Clinical testing that proves an implantable device is safe and effective long-term would be necessary before a brain-computer interface, like Neuralink’s, could be widely rolled out to patients, neurotechnology experts said. 

“That’s a big challenge,” said Sumner Norman, chief neuroscientist at AE Studio, a development agency with a dedicated team of brain-computer interface engineers. 

In the past year, Neuralink has been challenged with safety concerns after several of its monkeys had to be euthanized, including for suspected device-associated infections. It is standard practice in pharmaceutical and medical-device development to do preclinical testing on animals. 

“You’re going to see a ton of demos, but the group that really does crack the challenge of being able to make the technology into a form that people want to use in their everyday lives—that’s when we’re going to know that neurotechnology has come of age,” said Justin Sanchez, a fellow at Battelle, an applied-science organization, and former director of the biological technologies office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. During his time at DARPA, the agency funded some of the research on which Neuralink’s surgical robot is based, he said. 

In the past few years, there has been a flurry of research and development by universities and private companies, such as Paradromics Inc. and Precision Neuroscience Corp., to try to commercialize neural implants and wearable sensors that can decode brain signals and use that data to restore movement, touch, speech and other complex behaviors. 

WSJ’s Daniela Hernandez explores new technologies aimed at helping fully and partially paralyzed patients regain their sense of touch, which also helps them with moving normally again. Illustration: David Fang

Advancements in artificial intelligence, the miniaturization of electronics and new surgical techniques have sparked renewed investment in and develop of brain-computer interfaces, according to Michael Mager, chief executive of Precision Neuroscience Corp., which is working on a film-like sensor that sits on top of the brain and is inserted through a tiny slit in the skull.  

Researchers said it is unlikely that Neuralink had already begun testing devices with human brains.

Neuralink doesn’t yet have any clinical trials listed on ClinicalTrials.gov, a U.S. federal database of continuing studies that can range from a few to potentially hundreds of human participants, depending on the stage and scope of the trial. Typically, companies start with a few patients to assess safety.

Write to Daniela Hernandez at [email protected]

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