US entrepreneur Elon Musk has unveiled a pig whose brain has been implanted with a small computer.
The billionaire Tesla and SpaceX founder showed off the technology which he hopes will help people with severe neurological conditions during a demonstration from his start-up Neuralink which appeared aimed at recruiting new staff.
“We have a healthy and happy pig, initially shy but obviously high energy and, you know, kind of loving life, and she’s had the implant for two months,” he said on Friday (local time).
Three pigs were in attendance in nearby pens, with handlers nearby. The three pigs comprised one that was untreated, the second (“Gertrude”) was installed with a Neuralink device called the “Link”, and the third had previously had one installed but then subsequently had it removed.
He described the chip as “a Fitbit in your skull with tiny wires”.
“The neurons are like wiring, and you sort of need an electronic thing to solve an electronic problem,” he said.
Neuralink has sought approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for the project, which has seen scientists develop a tiny implant with more than 3000 electrodes, attached to flexible threads measuring about the tenth of the size of a hair, and capable of monitoring around 1000 neurons.
Mr Musk was asked about methods of application including for video games or summoning one’s vehicle.
But the 49-year-old and his team made it clear the company first wants the chip to assist people who have severe spinal cord injuries with talking, typing and movement using their brain waves.
“I am confident that long term it would be possible to restore someone’s full-body motion,” said Mr Musk, who has also famously said that he wants to “die on Mars, just not on impact”.
Although the technology is initially aimed at helping those with brain disorders, Mr Musk has said a brain-machine interface is needed in the future to mitigate the “existential threat of AI”.
He called for engineers, coders and those with experience delivering products to market to apply to work at Neuralink, adding “you don’t need to have brain experience.”