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March 2, 2024

First Human Receives Neuralink Brain Implant, Opening New Era of Brain-Computer Interfaces

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Feb 1, 2024

Elon Musk’s neurotechnology company Neuralink announced this week that it has successfully implanted its small, flexible computer chip into a human subject’s brain. This first-in-human milestone caps years of research and marks a major step toward Musk’s goal of merging human intelligence with advanced artificial intelligence.

Patient Doing Well After Implant Surgery

The patient, whose identity is being kept confidential for privacy reasons, is said to be doing well after undergoing surgery at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center last week to embed Neuralink’s device.

Doctors implanted the quarter-sized chip through a small hole drilled in the patient’s skull. The device features hair-thin flexible wires, or “threads”, studded with 1,024 electrodes which detect neuron activity and transmit signals wirelessly to an external computer. This computer then interprets the signals, allowing two-way communication between the human brain and the machine.

While details on the patient and surgical procedure remain scarce for now, Musk tweeted that “the functionality of the implant so far seems good.” He said that Neuralink will provide more information about the human trials and the capabilities of the device on February 28th.

Years of Research Led to Human Trials

Publicly introduced in 2017, Neuralink is developing brain-machine interface (BMI) technology to initially help people with paralysis and other neurological conditions, with an eventual goal of symbiosis between human and artificial intelligence. The overarching aim, Musk argues, is to give humans a competitive edge over AI by achieving a “high-bandwidth interface to the brain.”

The company has spent years developing its flexible, thread-based implants designed to cause less tissue damage than typical rigid electrodes while transmitting higher data volume. Extensive testing so far has focused on read/write capability in animals, with remotely-monitored pigs and monkeys demonstrated on live streams walking on treadmills and playing Pong using just their minds.

While brain chip research is accelerating in both academic labs and companies, experts say Neuralink is uniquely positioned to advance the field thanks to its multidisciplinary brainpower, surgical robotics innovation, and Musk’s ability to attract talent and funding.

“While risky and unconventional, Neuralink’s approach has tremendous potential,” said Dr. Helen Mayberg, a neurologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. However, she cautioned that “we’re still years away from commercial applications in humans, and even longer before transformative applications emerge.”

First Volunteer Paving the Way for Others

The otherwise healthy patient who volunteered for Neuralink’s first human implant is said to be paralyzed from the waist down. It is hoped the device can restore his ability to walk or use his hands by allowing his brain signals to bypass the spinal cord injury to control a computer, mouse or potentially an exoskeleton.

The volunteer’s bravery and altruism in helping prove both the safety and functionality of the device in human trials has opened the door for future patients to potentially gain control over paralyzed limbs, treat intractable neurological conditions, or even augment their cognition.

“This is a truly exciting moment and we applaud the volunteer patient who has given researchers the ability to demonstrate the technology’s incredible promise,” said Dr. Gary Marcus, a professor of psychology at NYU. “As the first recipient proves the device’s safety and efficacy, it will pave the way for others to restore function that was lost to trauma or disease.”

What’s Next for Brain-Computer Interface Technology

While the news confirms that Neuralink is the first BMI company to successfully implant a device in a human, experts say they lag behind competitors in some areas. For example, Synchron’s brain implant has enabled a paralyzed patient to type 39 words per minute via thought alone, while Neuralink’s technology has yet to demonstrate communication capabilities.

However, Neuralink’s innovative flexible electrode design gives them an edge in bidirectionality, with the potential for both data collection and transmission. Through neuroscience research enabled by the device, scientists hope to better understand neurological conditions like depression, addiction, PTSD, Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“If Neuralink’s technology proves capable of both reading and writing to the brain in humans, it would open tremendous possibilities for research and restoring brain function,” said Dr. Joseph Makin, head of EMN Lab which researches BMIs to recover from neurological injuries.

While it may take years to commercialize and scale a brain implant for mainstream medical use, doctors hope that human trials will progress swiftly enough for the technology to treat chronic diseases.

“Neural implants could be truly life-changing for those with neurological conditions,” said Dr. Helen Mayberg. “We surgeons are eager to validate the safety and efficacy of BMI so it can help the millions struggling with paralysis, speech impairments, and brain injuries.”

Hurdles Ahead Along the Path to “Symbiosis”

Neuralink faces numerous challenges as it works to prove the practical application of its brain-machine interface in medical settings. While the flexible electrodes are less invasive and transmit more data than previous rigid models, biosafety issues remain around insertion trauma, immune response, stability over time, and signal longevity. Remote, wireless data transfer also poses hacking and security risks.

There may also be psychological hurdles related to patients’ readiness to have technology implanted in their brains. Public opinion research by Neuralink revealed that most individuals would require a physical impairment before considering neurosurgery for an implant. It may be some years before healthy patients consent to BMI enhancement of their natural cognition.

Of course, Musk’s ultimate vision extends beyond medical applications altogether. He believes that symbiosis with artificial intelligence is necessary, perhaps within decades, to ensure humans can keep pace with the rapid advancement of AI. This theoretically enhanced human cognitive capacity could eventually allow direct brain interface with future technologies like self-driving cars.

While experts say we are still far from fully integrated AI-human symbiosis, this month’s successful human implant of Neuralink’s revolutionary flexible electrodes inches us one step closer towards that sci-fi future. For now, doctors hope the technology’s promise is proven out in further trials to help patients with neurological diseases regain critical capabilities.

Table 1: Comparison of Brain Machine Interfaces

Company Electrode Type Evidence in Humans Advantages
Neuralink Flexible, thread-based First implant 2024 Less invasive, higher data bandwidth

| Synchron | Rigid, metal pins | Enables communication | More data on safety
| Kernel | Flexible film | Preclinical | Targets broad applications

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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