Elon Musk says he’s confident enough about the future of brain-computer interface technology that he’s willing to hook himself up to one after human testing begins.
Neuralink may not be as famous as some of Musk’s other ventures, but the neurotechnology company he founded in 2016 is racing ahead to roll out human trials for its coin-sized brain implant, which could allow computers to decipher neural signals. For years, Musk has touted Neuralink’s potential to allow quadriplegic patients to control computers and mobile devices with their thoughts and potentially even restore motor function and cure neurological disorders.
Neuralink is planning on beginning long-awaited human clinical trials for the implant within six months, Musk announced Wednesday night at a company event, after numerous delays in human trial rollouts over the past few years. At the event, Musk also said he was ready to try the device out for himself as soon as it is ready.
“I could have a Neuralink device implanted right now, and you wouldn’t even know,” Musk said. “Maybe one of these demos, in fact, one of these demos I will,” he added, to audience applause. He reiterated his commitment to receiving an implant when pressed on Twitter shortly after the event.
“Elon just pledged to get a brain implant. says he could have one in right now because it’s indetectable. ‘in fact, in one of these demos, i will,’” Bloomberg reporter Ashlee Vance wrote on Twitter, eliciting a clear response from Musk: “Yup.”
Neuralink did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment on Musk’s plans or the timeline of human clinical trials.
Musk said that Neuralink is awaiting approval from the Food & Drug Administration to begin human trials. The company has so far tested its product on animals including pigs, rats, and primates, and Musk showed off video footage of monkeys “telepathic typing” on Wednesday.
“Obviously, we want to be extremely careful and certain that it will work well before putting a device in a human, but we’re submitted, I think, most of our paperwork to the FDA,” he said.
Musk announced several new potential uses for Neuralink, including the ability to restore vision for people born blind and even returning “full body functionality” to people who have suffered severed spinal cords and paralysis. Musk has said in the past that all humans will eventually require brain-computer interface devices such as Neuralink’s to keep up with super-advanced computers created by artificial intelligence and machine learning.
But Musk and Neuralink have endured their fair share of problems since the product’s inception including numerous delays of human trials. Musk first targeted human trials for Neuralink for 2020, although the rollout has been delayed multiple times since then.
The company has also come under fire from animal rights groups, who have accused it of abuse towards test subjects. One responsible health care advocacy organization even filed a federal complaint earlier this year against Neuralink accusing the company of conducting “invasive and deadly brain experiments” on 23 monkeys. In February, Neuralink admitted to having euthanized eight monkeys related to the complaint, six of which were due to complications arising from installing the brain implant.
Some scientists have critiqued Neuralink as overhyped, arguing that many of Neuralink’s supposedly groundbreaking achievements were already known to science. One neuroscientist even referred to Neuralink’s work in 2020 as “solid engineering but mediocre neuroscience.”
But the biggest problems with Neuralink’s ambitions may not be its science or external accusations; they may come from within the company itself.
Former Neuralink employees interviewed by Fortune in January spoke of a company structure marked by “internal tensions and erratic management” and a culture of “blame and fear.” Many employees described a high-pressure environment where decisions on product design had to be made before reliable data came in from the scientific teams conducting animal experiments. As for Musk himself, despite him being CEO, employees said he rarely visited HQ, usually making around two visits per quarter, during which he spent a few hours at Neuralink’s offices.
Employees said it was often difficult to reach Musk to gain approval on important decisions, as he was mainly preoccupied with his other companies Tesla and SpaceX. Musk’s distractions have likely only piled on since then, having recently bought social media company Twitter and taken on the role of CEO, in what has been a tumultuous tenure so far.
Neuralink did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment on various criticisms levied against the company.
Our new weekly Impact Report newsletter will examine how ESG news and trends are shaping the roles and responsibilities of today’s executives—and how they can best navigate those challenges. Subscribe here.