A year after being cleared for testing, billionaire Elon Musk’s Neuralink has implanted its wireless brain chip into a human for the first time.
Musk announced that the patient received the implant on Sunday and was “recovering well.” The device is believed to have several applications, from restoring motor functionality in people to enabling a brain-computer interface. There has been no independent verification of Musk’s claims and Neuralink has not provided too many details.
Musk has touted Neuralink as the future of technology and medicine, but ethical concerns have been raised around the chip and its testing.
Here’s what you need to know about Neuralink and its human testing.
What is Neuralink and what is it used for?
Neuralink is a brain chip startup founded by Musk in 2016.
A coin-sized device is surgically implanted into the skull, with ultra-thin wires penetrating the brain and developing a brain-computer interface (BCI).
The drive would record brain activity and send it to a device, such as a smartphone, over a common Bluetooth connection.
The first product, called Telepathy, would allow people to control their phone or computer “just by thinking,” Musk said.
Implanting the chip in the part of the brain that controls motor function would also allow people to overcome neurological disorders, the company claims.
Musk said the first adopters would be those who lost the use of their limbs.
What is the human trial phase of Neuralink?
THE human testing phase will collect data on safety and effectiveness, while helping to improve the device.
Musk said Monday on X that “initial results show promising detection of neuronal spikes.” This means that neurons send electrical and chemical signals to each other throughout the body. Such activity allows us to perform our daily functions, from eating to speaking.
When Neuralink began looking for trial participants in September, it was looking for people with diseases of the spinal cord, a key part of the body’s nervous system.
The United States Food and Drug Administration human trials approved in May 2023 amid federal investigations into the safety of its animal testing.
The first human received an implant @Neuralink yesterday and he is recovering well.
The first results show promising detection of neuronal spikes.
– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 29, 2024
What tests has Neuralink performed in the past?
Neuralink tested its chip on monkeys and pigs.
The company showed several monkeys “playing” basic video games or moving a cursor on a screen using their Neuralink implants.
Although Neuralink claims that no monkeys have died from their implants, there have been reports of implant-related problems in monkeys, including paralysis, seizures, and brain swelling.
Are other companies involved in such projects?
About 40 brain-computer interface trials are underway, according to an online database of active U.S. clinical trials.
The Australian company Synchron implanted its device in an American patient in July 2022. Synchron’s implant does not require a cut in the skull to be installed.
Other trials target medical needs while Musk’s company goes further, aiming to let people control their smartphones and devices.
What are the ethical concerns around Neuralink?
Experts have raised concerns about testing Neuralink’s brain chip on animals, as well as potential risks associated with brain surgery, such as brain hemorrhages or seizures.
They add that Musk’s vision of implants raises privacy and surveillance concerns. Few details are available about users’ ability to maintain control over their personal data and neural activity.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation fined Neuralink for failing to register as a transporter of hazardous materials – implants from the brains of primates – according to federal agency records reviewed by Reuters.