Elon Musk’s neurotechnology company Neuralink announced this week that it has successfully implanted its first brain-computer interface chip in a human volunteer, marking a major milestone for the startup.
Implant Performed Last Year
According to Musk, the implant surgery occurred over a year ago. The volunteer, who has not been publicly identified, is reported to be doing well with no complaints or adverse side effects since the Neuralink device was implanted in their brain.
While details remain scarce, Musk claimed the interface is “working well” and has allowed the volunteer to control a smartphone with their mind. The chip is enabling the person to play video games and even type using only brain signals.
What is Neuralink?
Founded in 2016, Neuralink is developing ultra high-bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers. The technology is aimed at first helping people with paralysis to operate digital devices and limbs with their mind, while the long-term goal is to enable advanced symbiosis between AI and human cognition.
The company’s N1 sensor chip features over 1,000 electrodes attached to flexible threads thinner than a human hair, which are stitched by a sophisticated robot into brain tissue to monitor nerve activity.
The system is designed to relay neural signals at high speed while avoiding the scar tissue buildup caused by rigid electrodes of older implants. Data collected can then be transmitted via an inductive link to an external processing unit worn behind the ear.
Regulatory Approval Controversy
While hailed by some as a breakthrough, Neuralink’s announcement has also been met with skepticism and calls for more transparency.
Little is known about the standards of informed consent applied for the human trial or what safety precautions have been implemented. There are also questions around whether the study received proper regulatory approval.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine issued a statement expressing concern over Neuralink’s apparent lack of commitment to transparency and regulatory oversight:
“If Neuralink has undertaken surgical human experimentation, it must be transparent with the public and regulatory agencies and follow all applicable laws and ethical standards.”
Many scientists argue vague, premature promotion of research risks misleading an excited public eager for treatments.
Promise for Treating Brain Disorders
Nonetheless, brain-computer interface technology holds incredible promise for those suffering neurological disorders. Conditions like paralysis, blindness, deafness, and memory loss may eventually be alleviated by systems linking brains to computers.
BCI implants could for example allow quadriplegics to operate wheelchairs or animatronic limbs just by thinking about movement. In the future, deeper integration could even restore some natural movement capability.
By providing a channel for bidirectional communication between brains and AI algorithms, the technology may also open up new creative abilities and modes of perception beyond normal human experience.
What’s Next for Human Trials
While more specifics are still forthcoming, Musk tweeted that a technical presentation will occur in April along with a product update. He hinted upcoming announcements related to treating conditions like paraplegia, quadriplegia, stroke, and dementia.
Many expect Neuralink will next pursue clinical trials in paralyzed patients to demonstrate its safety and efficacy as a medical intervention. However, the path to regulatory approval for human use remains long and complex. It may take years before Brain-computer interfaces become viable for mainstream patient adoption.
In the meantime, Neuralink faces competition from similar startups also rushing to demonstrate practical human applications. But its latest milestone represents a watershed moment for a technology that may fundamentally alter human cognition in the years ahead.
Quick Facts on Neuralink’s Brain Chip Implant Surgery
|Over 1 year ago
|Who Received Implant
|Location of Surgery
|Neuralink N1 Sensor chip with 1,000 electrodes
|Surgery Performed By
|Likely robot assisted
|Current Condition of Volunteer
|Reportedly doing well with no issues
|What Chip Enables
|Control phone/video games with mind
|Technical update in April 2024
Table of Notable Public Responses
|“The Neuralink device is working well and the person is making great progress “
|Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
|“If Neuralink has undertaken surgical human experimentation, it must be transparent with regulators and follow applicable laws and ethical standards”
|MIT Neuroscientist Ed Boyden
|“I’m eager to learn more about Neuralink’s work, research process, data and next steps”
|UC San Francisco Neurosurgeon Shawn Storer
|“The technology holds promise but rigorous evidence is required to prove benefit that outweighs the substantial risks involved”
|Duke Neuroengineer Mikhail Shapiro
|“This raises more questions than answers about transparency and regulation of surgical experiments on human subjects”
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