Tuesday, February 20, 2024

First human receives Elon Musk’s Neuralink brain chip implant

Elon Musk’s other company, the brain-machine interface startup Neuralink, has implanted its first wireless brain chip implant in a human, who is recovering well. “Initial results show promising neuron spike detection,” Musk announced on X, the social media platform he owns, formerly known as Twitter.

Elon Musk had previously stated that Neuralink aimed to have its first implants machine-installed in humans by the end of 2020. The company seems to have managed to deliver on time, keeping in mind Musk’s overly optimistic approach to timelines.

Neuralink received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct its first human trial last year – a critical milestone after earlier struggles to gain approval. With FDA approval in hand, Neuralink has initiated a six-year study that involves using a robot to surgically implant 64 flexible threads, which are thinner than human hair, onto the part of the brain that regulates movement intention.

According to the company, these threads allow its experimental implant to wirelessly capture and transmit brain signals to an app that decodes how the person intends to move. Additionally, the implant is powered by a battery that can be charged wirelessly, making it more convenient for patients to use.

The first Neuralink product is called Telepathy, which Musk says would bring control of a phone or computer just by thinking, as demonstrated previously with Pong-playing monkeys.

“Enables control of your phone or computer, and through them almost any device, just by thinking. Initial users will be those who have lost the use of their limbs. Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer. That is the goal,” Musk followed up in another post.

Musk’s brain-computer interface company faces rivals in the field, some of whom have a track record dating back two decades. Blackrock Neurotech, for instance, implanted its first of many brain-computer interfaces in 2004, while Precision Neuroscience, which was co-founded by a Neuralink co-founder, has developed an implant that sits on the surface of the brain and can be implanted via a cranial micro-slit, which it says is a much simpler procedure than Neuralink’s.

Existing devices have also shown promising results in helping people with paralysis communicate. In recent U.S., researchers used implants to decode the brain activity of people who tried to speak and then translated it into text or speech.