After years of delays, Neuralink Corp., a startup co-founded by Elon Musk and a small group of scientists in 2016, is set to begin human trials for an implantable brain chip that the tech CEO says will revolutionize humanity. And people are more than ready to lead the charge.

“I would love to be on the cutting edge of medical science, to be able to bridge the gap of humans and technology,” says Adam Woodworth, a 40-year-old security manager for a museum in Indianapolis who suffers from short-term memory loss due to a military injury. He is swayed by the notion — one Musk promotes heavily — that Neuralink’s device may be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease and brain disorders like his. “I understand there are risks, but someone has to be willing to step up and take that risk,” he says. “I am willing to be one of those people if Elon and the Neuralink team will be willing to allow me to participate.

“Also not sure if it will be possible right off the bat,” Woodworth adds, “but I am also a Tesla owner, and it would be pretty rad if I could communicate with my car using just my mind.”

While that sounds far-fetched, it’s not out of step with how Musk hypes Neuralink’s budding technology. The company has so far developed a brain-computer interface (BCI) that is implanted within the skull by a surgical robot and uses electrodes to process the electrical activity of neurons, then transmits these signals to another device, such as a computer. Motor impairment and spinal cord injuries have been the focus of Neuralink’s early explorations — the same is true of other biotech researchers developing brain implants — because this technology can allow for paralyzed individuals to move limbs or prosthetics and write text messages with thoughts alone.     

Yet Musk, who has poured at least $100 million of his own money into the venture, makes far broader and fantastic claims about the capabilities of his company’s implant. Apart from declaring that it “will enable someone with paralysis to use a smartphone with their mind faster than someone using their thumbs,” and “paraplegics to walk again,” he’s speculated it could eventually treat blindness, schizophrenia, depression, autism, obesity, and insomnia, and one day meld human consciousness with AI. This is in addition, of course, to creating a direct channel between minds and machines, not to mention the global internet. Oh, and did we mention that Neuralink could, according to Musk, allow for telepathic communication? (Neither Musk nor Neuralink responded to a request for comment as to whether these claims were somewhat hyperbolic.)  

The scientific community has expressed frank skepticism about a lot of this, with some experts saying Musk has little to no reason for such optimism. What’s more, the corporate culture at Neuralink, which has lost several founding members, is reportedly plagued by a “culture of blame” and unrealistic deadlines imposed by Musk. They have stiff competition from rivals in the space, including Blackrock Neurotech, backed by billionaire and former Musk business partner Peter Thiel, which claims it has already implanted their chips in more than 30 people’s brains. On top of all that, Neuralink has faced at least two federal probes from regulators, one of them tied to whistleblowers’ claims that rushed testing led to the “needless suffering” of 1,500 animals — and deaths of over a dozen — in experiments since 2018. Neuralink has denied that they acted improperly with any animals, yet still, in some corners of the internet, it’s is less known for pioneering neuroscience than as the Musk company that allegedly tortured a bunch of monkeys. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had, in fact, blocked the next phase of Neuralink’s research in early 2022 because of extensive safety concerns. Neuralink worked for over a year to resolve those complex issues — apparently to the agency’s satisfaction, as the company last week revealed they had finally secured approval to work with human patients. In a statement shared with Rolling Stone, an FDA spokesperson confirmed the green light for human clinical trials, noting that their evaluation process involves “ensuring risks are appropriately minimized and communicated to subjects, and ensuring the potential for benefit, including the value of the knowledge to be gained, outweighs the risk.”

Musk took a victory lap on the news, congratulating the Neuralink team via Twitter, which he also owns. And, with the pathway to further research now open, another question looms: Who will be first to have one of these experimental chips embedded in their brains?

Musk’s replies were predictably crammed with admirers requesting the device and asking how to join Neuralink’s clinical trials. Contrary to social media rumors, however, not everyone can sign up. At present, you can add your name to a patient registry that will help determine “preliminary eligibility” for participation, and that’s only if you have “quadriplegia, paraplegia, vision loss, hearing loss, and/or the inability to speak.” 

For the moment, these criteria exclude most of the technophiles eager to play guinea pig, none of whom are fazed by the negative press trailing in the company’s wake. They, too, welcomed the FDA’s blessing, and continue to prophesize the eventual triumph of the Neuralink project. During interviews with seven people who said they would join a clinical trial at the earliest chance, none voiced particular reservations about the dangers of having a chip implanted in their brain, or the limits of such a device.

“I’ve actually been waiting for this for years,” says Lyric Caballero, 23, a piercing and tattoo artist in Dallas. The reports of animals dying gruesomely in Neuralink labs are nothing to worry about because they were “killed in early trials,” she explains, and wouldn’t dissuade her from becoming a test subject. “After all, it’s FDA-approved now, and for that to have happened the entire team at the Neuralink facility have spent and dedicated their entire time on researching and developing this technology.”

Like Woodworth, Caballero has a medical condition she hopes can be alleviated by Neuralink: arthritis, which presents special difficulties as an artist who works with her hands. “There’s times where my joints and body ache so much and I can’t even move my fingers and body freely without me being in agony,” she says. A majority of the Neuralink enthusiasts who spoke to Rolling Stone mentioned an existing health problem or concern while discussing their bullishness on the concept.

“My interest in Neuralink is selfish,” says Feudi Pandola, 72, a financial aid officer for a Philadelphia university health care system. “I have read that this technology can add years to life expectancy, perhaps decades. As a 72-year-old, that interests me.” Susan Holden Martin, 69, a college educator in New Hampshire, thinks along the same lines: “I wouldn’t mind being a Neuralink test subject. I’m fascinated by the potential enhancements, and I’m getting older and wonder if it might help stall or eliminates cognitive decline.” As for whether she feels FDA approval for human trials may have been premature, given some of the alarming headlines about turmoil at the company and monkeys dying in labs, she’s agnostic. “Out of my wheelhouse,” she says. “But if my gut counts, it doesn’t feel early or too fast.”

Another common refrain among these Neuralink-positive interviewees is that Musk is just the man to make the breakthrough on brain-computer interfaces. Caballero cites SpaceX’s development of reusable rockets and says Musk is “always constantly working on making the next best thing and how to improve his products and services,” claiming that he “isn’t one to release something to the market that isn’t perfected.” (Some who own a Tesla, by far the most recalled of any car brand, may disagree.) “Elon Musk has achieved so many amazing breakthroughs that the mainstream media doesn’t even credit him for it,” she argues.

Martin agrees that Musk is running at the front of the pack where it comes to brain implants. “Tech development increases exponentially and new entrants are always popping up,” she says. “But yes, at the moment, my money is on Neuralink.” Pandola believes Musk is “the best person to put together the right people to do the job,” comparing the tech CEO’s role at Neuralink to Steve Jobs’ at Apple. And Bryan Harris, 55, who has worked in IT and sales management, says “Elon Musk is 100 percent” the entrepreneur who will pull off the world-shaking brain chip.

Harris, too, dreams of alleviating a cognitive malfunction with Neuralink’s technology. “I was recently diagnosed with bipolar,” he says, “and the possibility of something other than a chemical helping intrigues me.” He has yet to start traditional medication for this condition. “And perhaps I’m a risk-taker, or I’m wanting an alternate treatment,” Harris says, adding that his love of tech and “the evolution of change, building an improved world” are factors in his interest. “Yes, if offered — I would take the trial. I feel I may be the best subject as my IQ is nearing negative figures,” he concludes.

Not everyone is looking to Musk’s biotech firm for medical reasons, and if he has perhaps exaggerated on that front, he’s also encouraged the impression that this brain implant can unleash human ability by turning us into advanced cyborgs. John Kalning, 49, works in film production and produces a gothic Western AI art project on YouTube called “NeuralPunks.” For him, Neuralink offers a “seamless creative process” through a “direct neural connection with AI systems.”

“Since I first heard about Neuralink, I’ve been hooked by the idea of [tinkering] around with my own brain.”

Already invested in “bypassing the limitations of traditional tools and methods” through AI tools like Midjourney, Kalning wants to take things a step further — and believes a Neuralink trial could get him there. “The communication between my limited human mind and AI could unlock new dimensions of artistic expression, making AI films that truly emanate from my imagination,” he says. “Excited to be a ghost in the shell.”

“Ever since I first heard about Neuralink, I’ve been hooked by the idea of being able to tinker around with my own brain,” says Brock Brown, a 27-year-old programmer who imagines “downloading stuff to my brain, managing complex negative emotions, having all sorts of trippy experiences.” But beyond these applications, Brown has a sweeping philosophical view of what this kind of hardware represents. “I can’t shake the feeling that we’re on the cusp of something the same magnitude of when the cells decided to team up to become animals,” he says. “We might be on the brink of a change so profound, it could strip all the fluff, all the deception. It could lay us bare, giving us the chance to live raw, authentic lives.”

Whether it’s Neuralink or a successor that will open up this gleaming world, Brown isn’t sure. What he knows is that to be there at its beginning is a once-in-history opportunity. “The possibility of being one of the first people to take that leap, or to at least get a taste of it, feels worth risking everything for,” he says.

Regardless of their different theories of what a Musk-backed neural implant means for our species, this seems to be a shared conviction among its biggest proponents: The change will be seismic, and there’s no sense in shying away from what’s to come. Where some are dissuaded by perilous hazard and deep uncertainty, they see virtually infinite upside. That their dream of a brain chip as panacea for all of humanity’s ills and weaknesses currently hangs on Musk, rather than the biomedical industry as a whole, is a testament to his relentless salesmanship.


Still, it’ll be a good while before Neuralink arrives at a finished product, and the company may never get there if the federal investigations and negative headlines continue. It’s hardly out of the question that Musk himself, the very picture of a mercurial billionaire, would scotch or somehow pivot the plan in years ahead. No doubt he’s whetted the collective appetite for transhumanist advancement — an open waitlist for Neuralink’s human trials would be quite lengthy, even at this early stage — but he’s also run into a complication faced by any zealous futurist: When you promise people an idealized tomorrow, they start to want it today.