Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s neuroscience startup Neuralink on Friday unveiled a pig that has had a coin-sized computer chip in its brain for two months.
Gertrude, as Musk calls the pig, represents an early step toward the goal of curing human diseases with the same type of implant.
Co-founded by Musk in 2016, San Francisco-based Neuralink aims to implant wireless brain-computer interfaces that include thousands of electrodes in the most complex human organ to help cure neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s, dementia and spinal cord injuries and ultimately fuse humankind with artificial intelligence.
“An implantable device can actually solve these problems,” Musk said on a webcast Friday, mentioning ailments such as memory loss, hearing loss, depression and insomnia.
Musk later turned to what he described as the “three little pigs demo.”
The pig with a Neuralink implant in the part of its brain that controls the snout required some coaxing by Musk to appear on camera, but eventually began eating off of a stool and sniffing straw, triggering spikes on a graph tracking the animal’s neural activity.
Musk said the company had three pigs with two implants each, and also revealed a pig that previously had an implant. The pigs were “healthy, happy and indistinguishable from a normal pig,” Musk said. Musk said the company predicted a pig’s limb movement during a treadmill run at “high accuracy” using implant data.
One comment from a webcast viewer described the animals as “Cypork.”
Neuralink’s first clinical trials with a small number of human patients would be aimed at treating paralysis or paraplegia, the company’s head surgeon Dr. Matthew MacDougall said on Friday, but did not provide a timeline.
Musk said the focus of Friday’s event was recruiting, not fundraising. Musk has a history of bringing together diverse experts to drastically accelerate the development of innovations previously limited to academic labs, including rocket, hyperloop and electrical vehicle technologies through companies such as Tesla Inc and SpaceX.
Neuralink has received $158 million in funding, $100 million of which came from Musk, and employs about 100 people.
Beyond healthcare, Musk, who frequently warns about the risks of artificial intelligence, has said the implant would “secure humanity’s future as a civilization relative to AI.”
Musk described Neuralink’s sensor, which is roughly eight millimeters (three-tenths of an inch) in diameter, or smaller than a fingertip, as “a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires.”
“I could have a Neuralink right now and you wouldn’t know,” Musk said. .”.. Maybe I do.”