Why Elon Musk’s Neuralink Is More Than A Chip On Your Shoulder

Elon Musk, the founder of the brain-chip startup Neuralink, has announced that the company has successfully implanted a brain-computer interface (BCI) chip in its first human subject.

According to Musk, the procedure took place last Sunday, and the wireless chip implant, known as “Telepathy,” aims to revolutionize how people with neurological disorders interact with technology.

Sharing more details on X, Musk claims the patient is recovering well after the procedure. He also shared that the initial results are promising, with effective detection of neuron spikes — a term used to describe the activity of neurons, the cells responsible for transmitting information throughout the brain and body via electrical and chemical signals.

Key Takeaways

  • Elon Musk’s Neuralink said it has successfully implanted its “Telepathy” brain-computer interface (BCI) chip in a human subject, aiming to revolutionize interaction for those with neurological disorders.
  • Initial results show promise, with potential applications for limb control and device manipulation via thought.
  • The transplant follows Neuralink’s history of regulatory challenges and scrutiny.
  • While heralded as a milestone in neurotechnology, there are questions to consider around safety, privacy, and societal implications.

According to Musk, the first users will be those who have lost control of their limbs.

The ‘Telepathy’ chip, Musk hopes, could potentially allow users to control their phones, computers, and virtually any device simply by thinking, and he painted an example of how the technology could improve the lives of people with conditions similar to the late renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking, who had motor neurone disease.

“Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer. That is the goal.”

This latest development puts Neuralink among the list of neurotechnology companies like the Utah-based Blackrock Neurotech, which recorded over 30 successful brain chip implants on humans as of last year.

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Another notable mention is Precision Neuroscience, a New York-based company founded by Benjamin Rapoport, who also co-founded Neuralink. Wired reported last year that the company carried out brain chip implants on three patients in operations, which lasted for 15 minutes.

Neuralink: History, Context, and Background

Neuralink’s breakthrough comes after years of research and development and some regulatory hurdles. In 2022, Reuters reported that the company was under the radar of federal investigators for potential animal welfare violations.

Based on the Reuters report, Neuralink was accused of conducting several botched tests in which about 1500 animals, including sheep, pigs, and monkeys, died.

The company has also faced criticism from internal staff who claimed that its testing process is being rushed, raising questions about the validity of the testing procedures and safety claims.

After several back and forths with federal investigations, Neuralink announced on X last May that it had been given the green light by the US Food and Drug Administration to conduct its first human trial.

Information on Neuralink’s website sums up the goal of BCI implant and what this first clinical trial looks like:

“This study involves placing a small, cosmetically invisible implant in a part of the brain that plans movements. The device is designed to interpret a person’s neural activity, so they can operate a computer or smartphone by simply intending to move — no wires or physical movement are required.”

The BCI Industry and Many Unanswered Questions

Musk’s announcement of its first human brain chip implant is a remarkable achievement that could have profound implications for the fields of medicine, biology, and technology.

However, it also poses many challenges and uncertainties that need to be carefully addressed and discussed.

One of the many questions is whether this technology will ever catch on when ready for mainstream use.

While some people may be eager to embrace the benefits of having a chip in their brain, such as enhanced communication, improved mobility (in the case of people with neurological issues), learning, and entertainment, others may be reluctant or fearful of the potential drawbacks, such as privacy concerns, security risks, and ethical dilemmas.

Moreover, some people may see this technology as a first step to having an Android OS running on their brain or a human-like robot, which could affect their sense of identity, humanity, and security.

While it is true that BCIs could offer a great deal of hope and empowerment for people who suffer from disabilities such as paralysis, blindness, and amputation, it is also essential to consider the possible side effects, complications, and limitations of the technology.

For instance, how reliable, safe, and durable is the chip? How easy or difficult is it to use, maintain and update? Can it affect the brain’s natural functions, such as memory, emotion, and creativity?

Another issue worth pondering is what this technology means for the future of humanity and society. How will BCIs change the way we interact, communicate, and collaborate with each other? In what ways will they affect our education, work, and leisure?

How will they influence our culture, values, and norms? Are there possibilities that they will challenge our notions of reality, truth, and meaning?

The Bottom Line

Neuralink’s first human brain chip implant is not the first attempt at stitching a computer to the human brain. However, it sure will set the stage for a race to commercialize the industry.

While we marvel at how BCI technology opens new horizons in many fields, especially how it could enable people to overcome neurological challenges, it’s still fraught with significant risks and uncertainties that can’t be swept under the rug.

Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that the technology is developed and used responsibly, transparently, and inclusively, with respect for human dignity, rights, and values.

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Franklin Okeke

Franklin has been covering tech and cybersecurity for over 5 years. His work has appeared on TechRepublic, The Register, TechInformed, Computing, ServerWatch, and Moonlock, among others.