Neuralink, the brain-computer interface startup founded by tech billionaire Elon Musk, has announced that it has successfully implanted its wireless brain chip in a human for the first time. The company says that the implant, known as the “Link”, will enable people with paralysis to control devices with their thoughts.
What is Neuralink and what does it do?
Neuralink is a company that aims to connect human brains to computers and help tackle complex neurological conditions. The company was founded in 2016 by Elon Musk, who is also the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. Neuralink’s vision is to create a “digital layer” above the human cortex that can enhance human cognition and communication.
Neuralink’s implant, the Link, is a small device that is inserted into the skull and connected to the brain with ultra-fine threads. The device can record and transmit brain signals wirelessly to an app that decodes how the person intends to move. The company says that the Link can also stimulate the brain to provide feedback, such as touch sensations.
Neuralink claims that its implant can enable “control of your phone or computer and through them almost any device, just by thinking”. The company also says that its implant can help people with quadriplegia, or paralysis of all four limbs, to regain their mobility and independence. Neuralink’s ultimate goal is to achieve “telepathy”, or the ability to communicate without words.
How did Neuralink implant its first human?
Neuralink announced the news of its first human implant on Monday, January 29, 2024, on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. Elon Musk, the driving force of Neuralink, said that the implant was performed on Sunday and that the patient is recovering well. He also said that the initial results showed promising neuron spike detection or nerve impulses.
Neuralink received clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last year to conduct its first trial to test its implant on humans, a critical milestone in the startup’s ambitions. The trial, called the Prime study, is a six-year study that will evaluate the safety and functionality of the implant and the surgical robot that places it.
The study will involve up to 10 participants who have quadriplegia due to spinal cord injury, stroke, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The participants will undergo a minimally invasive surgery to implant the Link device in their brains. The device will then be calibrated and tested to see if it can enable them to control devices such as a computer mouse, keyboard, or smartphone with their thoughts.
What are the challenges and opportunities for Neuralink?
Neuralink is not the first company to develop a brain-computer interface, nor the first to implant one in a human. Several other companies and research institutions have been working on similar technologies for decades, such as Blackrock Neurotech, Precision Neuroscience, and the BrainGate consortium. These technologies have already shown promising results in helping people with paralysis to communicate, type, or move robotic arms.
However, Neuralink claims that its implant is more advanced, wireless, and scalable than the existing ones. The company says that its implant has 1,024 electrodes, which can record more brain signals than the current devices that have about 100 electrodes. The company also says that its implant is wireless, which eliminates the need for wires or external devices that can limit mobility and cause infections. Moreover, the company says that its implant can be easily inserted and removed by a robot, which can reduce the risks and costs of surgery.
Neuralink faces many challenges and uncertainties in its quest to revolutionize brain-computer interfaces. The company will have to prove that its implant is safe, effective, and durable in the long term. The company will also have to address the ethical, social, and legal implications of its technology, such as privacy, security, consent, and regulation. The company will also have to compete with other players in the field, who may have more experience, resources, or patents.
Neuralink’s technology also opens up many opportunities and possibilities for the future of humanity. The company says that its technology can potentially help millions of people who suffer from neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, depression, and schizophrenia. The company also says that its technology can enhance human capabilities, such as memory, learning, creativity, and empathy. The company also says that its technology can enable new forms of communication, entertainment, and education.
Neuralink’s first human implant is a significant step toward the company’s vision of connecting human brains to computers. The company hopes that its technology will transform the lives of people with paralysis and eventually the lives of everyone.