Elon Musk, the billionaire technologist, said recently that a person has been implanted with his business Neuralink’s brain-computer interface for the first time. Musk posted on his social media site X (formerly Twitter) that the receiver was “recovering well” and that first findings indicated “promising neuron spike detection,” an indication to the electrical activity of brain cells. In May 2023, the US Food and Drug Administration gave permission for Neuralink’s human clinical trials. Additionally, the company stated in September of last year that individuals with quadriplegia will be able to join in its first research.
A surgical robot inserts electrode arrays made up of over 1,000 ultrathin, flexible conductors into the cerebral cortex of each wireless Neuralink device, which is comprised of a chip. The electrodes are intended to record motion-related thoughts there. At some point, according to Musk, an app would interpret these impulses to print text or move a cursor—in other words, it will make computer control possible by thought. “Consider if Stephen Hawking was able to converse more quickly than an auctioneer or speed typist.Regarding the first Neuralink product, which he claimed is called Telepathy.
In what way is the chip distinct from other BCIs?
Additionally, Synchron, a firm located in New York City, has demonstrated that a low-bandwidth surface BCI may offer simple but dependable smartphone control2.
Neuralink’s device is fully implanted and wireless, much like Synchron’s. That’s a first for BCIs that record from individual neurons. In the past, these systems required a physical connection between the computer and a port located in the skull. This restricts practical use and increases the danger of infection.
An engineer fits a brain–computer interface device produced by another company, Synchron.
According to the company’s study brochure, the Neuralink chip has 64 flexible polymer threads, offering 1,024 locations for monitoring brain activity. That is substantially more than Blackrock Neurotech’s BCIs, the only other single-neuron recording system that has been inserted
Similar to Blackrock Neurotech in Salt Lake City, Utah, Neuralink focuses on the function of individual neurons — a strategy that requires electrodes that penetrate the brain. Other companies are creating electrodes that are applied to the surface of the brain to capture the average signals generated by groups of neurons. Some of these electrodes can be removed with ease. For a considerable time, neuroscientists have maintained that complex thought-decoding requires information from individual neurons. But recent research suggests that averaged signals may enable deciphering of complex cognitive processes, such as inner speech1.
Researchers in neurotechnology are enthused by Neuralink’s human study, even cautiously. “My expectation is that they will be able to prove it is secure. And that it works well for monitoring brain impulses over the long term as well as the short term, according to Mariska Vansteensel, president of the global BCI Society and a neuroscientist at the University Medical Centre Utrecht in the Netherlands.
However, the absence of comprehensive information is causing frustration. Aside from Musk’s tweet, there has been no official announcement that the trial has started. A research leaflet encouraging participants to join in the trial serves as the primary source of public information regarding it. However, according to Tim Denison, a neuroengineer at the University of Oxford in the UK, that does not include information on the precise outcomes that the research would evaluate or the location of the implantations.
The US National Institutes of Health maintains an online repository called ClinicalTrials.gov, where the trial is not registered. Before study participants are registered, several institutions demand that researchers register a trial and its protocol in a publicly accessible repository of this kind. Furthermore, a lot of medical journals require this registration in order to be published.