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May 29, 2024

Neuralink Implants First Brain Chip in Human Patient

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Feb 4, 2024

Elon Musk’s neurotechnology company Neuralink announced this week that it has successfully implanted its first brain-computer interface chip in a human patient, marking a major milestone for the startup.

Background on Neuralink and Brain-Computer Interfaces

Founded in 2016, Neuralink aims to develop implantable brain-machine interfaces that connect humans and computers. The idea is that Neuralink’s tiny flexible electrode “threads” and computer chips could one day help paralyzed patients communicate and move again. Or the technology could even enhance abilities in healthy people, like memory or eyesight.

Before this week’s announcement, Neuralink had shown off its implant and robotic surgery methods in animals but had not yet put its hardware inside a person.

The concept of a brain-computer interface (BCI) that can read brain signals and stimulate the brain is not new, but existing devices often require invasive surgery that damages brain tissue over time. Neuralink says its threads are extremely thin and tiny, in an effort to be gentler on the brain.

Year Milestone
2004 First BCI implanted in human (Matthew Nagle)
2006 First mind-controlled robotic arm
2012 First quadriplegic receives brain implant to control robot arm
2016 Neuralink founded
2022 Neuralink shows neurons firing around threads in monkeys
2024 First Neuralink chip implanted in human

First Human Implant

On January 30, 2024, Elon Musk tweeted that Neuralink had accomplished its first implant of a computer chip into a human brain. He said the patient, who remains unnamed, was “doing well.”

Musk and Neuralink later provided more details, explaining that the first implant recipient was a male volunteer who has severe spinal cord injuries. The patient is unable to walk or use his hands.

The implant itself involved placing a chip the size of a coin with 1,000 channels loaded with electrodes that can read nerve signals and stimulate nerves. This “Neuralink device” was surgically implanted by a robot into the upper left side of the patient’s brain closest to the part of his motor cortex that controls hand and arm movements.

According to Neuralink, the human recipient has been able to use signals from the implant to operate a computer mouse and type by thinking about moving his hands.

“He’s able to type at about 40 words per minute, stream music, and generally operate a computer straight from his mind,” Musk said.

The patient also uses an iPhone app to adjust settings on the Neuralink implant without additional surgery to receive firmware updates.

Goals of Human Trials

This first successful human implant kicks off Neuralink’s early clinical trials to test the device’s safety and feasibility.

The current study, called PRIME (Preclinical Rehearsal in Moving Environment), has a primary goal of using the implanted chip to help paralyzed patients operate digital devices like phones or computers solely by thinking about moving their limbs.

If successful in trials with more patients, Neuralink then aims to use its brain implants to achieve more complex actions, like allowing paralyzed patients to walk again or restoring touch sensation in the brain by stimulating nerves that carry signals from the hands and fingers up to the brain.

Concerns Over Safety, Ethics

However, Neuralink’s dramatic leap into human experimentation with an implanted computer chip has raised alarms over the ethics, regulations, transparency, and safety of this frontier.

Critics argue that Neuralink has provided little public evidence on the safety risks of its robotic surgery methods and long-term impacts of its implanted electrodes and wires. There are also worries that hacking or hardware issues could endanger patients relying on implants for critical communication and movement.

Additionally, neuroethicists question how much informed consent patients in vulnerable medical situations can truly give, and stress the need for strong oversight boards. If the technology advances as imagined, deeper philosophical debates may emerge around the ethics of “enhancing” healthy humans while the long-term consequences remain unknown.

What’s Next for Neuralink and BCIs

While it’s still very early and long-term impacts are unproven, Neuralink does appear to have successfully implanted its first computer chip into the brain of a paralyzed patient.

Elon Musk set an ambitious goal for Neuralink, tweeting that he hopes the technology could one day help paraplegics walk again complete with “sensory feedback” allowing them to feel their limbs. He believes Neuralink could even go beyond medical applications to offer “superhuman vision” abilities like telepathy and sharing thoughts.

However other neurotechnology experts argue Musk’s visions are hypothetical at best for now. The path to complex applications like restored touch or movement would require years more safety testing and innovation leaps.

But if Neuralink’s trials continue demonstrating feasibility, it could open doors for more research and competition between brain-computer interface platforms from different companies. Similar startups like Synchron and Paradromics are now seeing rising investor interest after Neuralink’s public milestone.

For the unnamed first implant recipient though, the possibilities already seem life-changing. Now able to operate a computer with his mind, he has achieved a remarkable new ability that may just be the first step in this long road ahead.

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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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