The first human patient has reportedly had the Neuralink computer chip implanted into their brain, according to a tweet from Elon Musk, marking either a milestone for people with neurodegenerative disorders, or one giant leap for oligarch mind control.
It’s a sign of who Elon Musk is that perhaps the most useful and meaningful company he has co-founded, the Fremont-based Neuralink whose technology could potentially give paralyzed people the power to move things, is best known for Elon knocking up an attractive young female executive to the dismay of pop star Grimes. So the maturity issues and unnecessary personal drama have thus far overshadowed what may be the most important (or dystopian) of any product in the checkered Musk portfolio.
Neuralink, if it’s all it’s cracked up to be, would build a coin-sized computer chip that would be implanted into the human brain, and allow thoughts (in the form of brain chemical signals known as neurons) to control objects, likely connected objects like computers or smartphones. And according to Reuters and a tweet from Neuralink co-founder Musk, a Neuralink chip has been implanted into the brain of its first human subject.
The first human received an implant from @Neuralink yesterday and is recovering well.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 29, 2024
Initial results show promising neuron spike detection.
Mind you, this is just Musk claiming on Twitter that “The first human received an implant from @Neuralink yesterday and is recovering well. Initial results show promising neuron spike detection.” There is no data presented here to back any of this up, nor anything scientifically peer-reviewable. (And Musk is the same guy who claimed that the glitchy mega-fail of the Ron DeSantis campaign announcement chat on Twitter was somehow a wild success).
But as Reuters points out, the FDA has given Neuralink clearance to do clinical trials on human subjects. So there is some adult oversight here.
CNN explains that the first product Neuralink is trying to develop is called Telepathy, which hopes its chips can be placed in part of the brain that controls movement. The chip would then send signals to a connected device, like a smartphone or computer, such that a person with paralysis or neurodegenerative diseases could then control said devices.
How to spot a Neuralink implant pic.twitter.com/UB8tkgSOTM— Brad Smith (@thebradsmith) January 30, 2024
But Neuralink has had its share of screwups, too. Reuters reported in late 2022 that botched Neuralink experiments led to the deaths of more than 1,500 animals, which then led to a federal probe into the company. Plus as KTVU reminds us, Nueralink’s first request for human trials was rejected by the FDA, though the trials are federally sanctioned and underway now.
It’s also important to note that Neuralink is not the only company in the game. Other startups like Synchron also hope to build brain-computer interfaces, and they’ve got a couple-year head start on Neuralink, as they’ve been doing approved clinical trials since 2021.
“The idea of brain-nervous system interfaces has great potential to help people with neurological disorders in future,” British Neuroscience Association president Tara Spires-Jones said in an interview with the UK’s Science Media Center. “However, most of these interfaces require invasive neurosurgery and are still in experimental stages thus it will likely be many years before they are commonly available.”
In the case of Neuralink, the human thoughts (neurons) would communicate with an app. And yes this could be a massive breakthrough for the physically impaired. But it's also crossing a rubicon where apps not only store your location data, but humans thoughts themselves. That may be cause for concern given tech companies' track record on privacy, and there are also ethical concerns over the potential for manipulation of human emotions.
Image: Neuralink surgically implant some computer components onto the surface of your brain to control equipments (Getty Images)