Neuralink has implanted its chip into a human body for the first time, detecting electrical signals from a patient's brain, startup leader Elon Musk said on Monday. This is his first step on a very long road to making technology safe and useful.
The first device to be installed is part of a clinical trial that Neuralink announced in 2023, in which the device will be used in people with quadriplegia due to spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. This is a test to see how effective it is. The idea is to intercept the brain's nerve signals to move a limb and resend those signals elsewhere in the body, allowing the patient to regain control of the limb.
Neuralink obtained Approval from the US Food and Drug Administration But Musk wants to go far beyond that and build what he calls “a general-purpose input/output device that can interface with every aspect of the brain.” In other words, it's something everyone uses to connect their mind directly to the digital realm.
By the standards of today's computing technology, this is radical science fiction. When Musk first announced Neuralink, he floated the idea of sending messages directly into another person's mind, or what he called “consensual telepathy” in 2017. His ultimate goal is “a complete brain-machine interface that can accomplish some kind of information.” It's a symbiosis with AI,” Musk said.
Major barriers to Neuralink's success
Don't expect it to happen right away. It is easier to get approval for limited medical research in people whose health problems show no signs of improving than it is to convince people to implant non-medical products into their bodies. In addition to proving the technology and obtaining medical approval, there are serious ethical and social barriers to adoption.
Mr. Musk himself, a polarizing figure, could block the hiring. He became a technology hero to many as he led Tesla to develop competitive electric cars and SpaceX to build more affordable rockets and satellite-based internet access. But his chaotic Twitter takeover, now called X, has alienated many people who see him as anti-Semitic or racist.
Another obstacle is people's squeamishness. Telepathy sounds cool, but there's no getting around the fact that the Neuralink implant replaces part of your skull. Installing an implant is much more important than having a dentist dig out a cavity. Neuralink has been criticized by animal rights activists after tests on monkeys caused infections and implant screws coming loose.
Neuralink also hopes to allow patients to control computing devices using just their heads using an app they are developing. “Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or an auctioneer. That's the goal.” Mr. Musk said..
Neuralink is one of many brain implant initiatives
Human trials have been delayed for years. Neuralink had hoped to start human trials in 2020.
Meanwhile, rival companies are also making advances in what are called brain-machine and brain-computer interface technologies, including experiments that have already helped humans walk again.
BlackRock Neurotech has been testing implants in humans for many years. Paradromics also works on implants. Synchron Medical announced test results for its communication implant in 2023. Precision Neuroscience is working on developing minimally invasive implants, and Nuro hopes to succeed with a non-invasive approach that doesn't require surgery at all.
Academic researchers are also publishing research papers one after another.
What Neuralink is trying to do
Neuralink is based on the idea that modern electronics and computing technology can record and interpret the electrical signatures of brain cells called neurons. Its computing technology can communicate with the body by generating unique signals. The hope is that it will eventually be connected to a computer, allowing the camera, for example, to send signals to the visual cortex of blind people, allowing them to see.
The implant works by inserting 64 threads into the brain with a total of 1,024 very small electrodes. Each electrode can sense electrical signals from the brain. Part of Neuralink's sales pitch is its R1 robot, which is designed to attach these wires without interfering with blood cells in the brain.
The telepathic unit is about the size of a coin, but much thicker and fits inside a hole drilled in the patient's skull. It contains a processor that oversees communication between the brain and the outside world. Communicate and charge wirelessly.
Neuralink's human trials are expected to last about six years, according to a brochure about the trials.