A year after being cleared for the test, billionaire Elon Musk’s Neuralink has implanted its wireless brain chip in a human for the first time.
Musk announced that the patient received the implant on Sunday and “is recovering well”. This device has multiple applications from helping people regain motor function to creating a brain computer interface. There was no independent verification of Musk’s claims, and Neuralink did not offer 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 is what you need to know about Neuralink and its human testing.
What does Neuralink do?
Neuralink is a brain-chip startup founded by Musk in 2016.
A device the size of a coin is surgically implanted in the skull, with ultra-thin wires going into the brain and developing a brain-computer interface (BCI).
The disk will register brain activity, and then send that information to another device such as a smartphone through Bluetooth.
The first product, called Telepathy, would allow people to control their phones or computers “just by thinking”, said Musk.
Planting the chip in the part of the brain that controls motor function would also enable people to overcome neurological disorders, the company claims.
Musk said that initial users would be those who have 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 improve the device.
Musk said on X on Monday that the “initial results show promising neuron spike detection”. This means that neurons are sending electrical and chemical signals to each other around the body. Such activity allows us to carry out our everyday functions from eating to talking.
When Neuralink initially started searching for trial participants in September, it was looking for individuals with diseases of the spinal cord, a key part of the body’s nervous system.
The US Food and Drug Administration approved human trials in May 2023 amid federal probes into the safety of its trials on animals.
The first human received an implant from @Neuralink yesterday and is recovering well.
Initial results are promising.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 29, 2024
What testing has Neuralink carried out in the past?
Neuralink has tested out its chip on monkeys and pigs.
The company showed several monkeys “playing” basic video games or moving a cursor on a screen through their Neuralink implants.
Although Neuralink says no monkeys died as a result of their implants, there have been reports of issues with the implants on monkeys, including paralysis, seizures and brain swelling.
Are any other companies involved in such projects?
There are some 40 brain-computer interface trials under way, according to an online database of active clinical trials in the United States.
Australia-based company Synchron implanted its device in a US patient in July 2022. Synchron’s implant is not installed by cutting the skull.
Other trials target medical needs while Musk’s company goes beyond that, aiming to allow people to control their smartphones and devices.
What ethical issues surround Neuralink exist?
Experts have raised concerns around the experimentation of Neuralink’s brain chip on animals, as well as potential risks associated with brain surgery, such as brain haemorrhage or seizures.
Experts say that Musk’s vision for implants is a cause of privacy and surveillance issues. There are few details on how users can retain control over their data or neural activity.
Earlier this year, the US Department of Transportation fined Neuralink for failing to register itself as a transporter of hazardous material — implants from the brains of primates — according to records from the federal agency reviewed by Reuters.
The post What is Elon Musk’s Neuralink brain chip, now being tested on humans? was first published on Al Jazeera .