It took a little longer than promised, but Elon Musk confirmed this Monday that a human has had his company’s chip implanted in the brain. “He is recovering well,” said the businessman when announcing the news on X, the social network. “The first results show a promising detection neuronal electrical impulses,” he adds. The surgical intervention was carried out by Neuralink, one of the companies owned by Musk, which has been under surveillance by the authorities for several months after the death of several monkeys during the testing phase of these chips. At this time, neither the age nor the identity of the patient are known.
Musk has made technological and scientific progress a marketing step. “Neuralink’s first product is called Telepathy,” explained the businessman. This will be used to be able to control the phone and computer of the patient who received the implant by thought. “The first users will be those who have lost the use of their limbs. Imagine if Stephen Hawking had communicated faster than a stenographer or an auctioneer. That’s the goal,” said the entrepreneur. This is not the first time that a brain implant has been carried out, since neurotechnology has been progressing in this area for years.
The company began recruiting patients for experiences, which have a duration of six years. The patients would be part of PRIME, a program that summarizes the company’s goals, the precise implantation of a chip (Precise Robotically Implanted Brain Computer Interface) in the brain. During its first major presentation to the public, the company assured that the implant, “cosmetically invisible”, would allow control of a cursor or a keyboard using “only thought”. The search for patients began just as the complaint of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine became known, which, together with journalistic investigations, warned of the deaths of a dozen monkeys in the Neuralink experiments.
Neuralink’s goal was to focus on quadriplegics with spinal cord injuries or people who have suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, for at least a year. The people chosen had to be over 22 years old and have a nurse or guardian at their disposal at all times. They would be rewarded with financial support to travel to sites where clinical trials would be carried out within 18 months of the first stage. The big reward, however, would be a radical change in their lives, brought about by a chip implanted in the part of the brain that controls the intention to move. The semiconductor records neuronal activity via 1,024 electrodes spread across 64 wires, each thinner than a human hair.
For any company producing medical devices, the first human trial is an important milestone, says Anne Vanhoestenberghe, a researcher specializing in implantable medical devices at King’s College London. “In the brain chip implant community, we need to contextualize this news by understanding that while many companies are working on promising products, only a few have implanted their devices in humans. Neuralink has therefore joined a fairly small group,” Vanhoestenberghe explained to the scientific information service SMC.
“Neuralink has not released any information about its participant, nor the specific objective of the trial. If indeed the participant is a quadriplegic person, then it is likely that its objective is to allow the participant to control a cursor on the screen of a computer or mobile phone, and thus to interact with applications, and possibly control certain hardware devices. . However, this is conjecture, since Neuralink has not published information about the participant,” the researcher added.
Neuralink received the green light from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the pharmaceutical regulator, in May 2023 to carry out the intervention in humans. Obtaining FDA approval was an essential condition for the historic milestone announced by Musk this afternoon to be achieved. Health authorities had rejected the first request, made in 2022, showing certain doubts about the safety of the lithium battery included in the semiconductor, which is the size of a 25 cent coin. The government agency’s experts also wanted to know whether the wires exiting the brain could disrupt or damage other areas of the skull.
The Neuralink team, a company founded in 2016, corrected the FDA’s observations in record time and against the advice of experts skeptical of the procedure. “Neuralink does not appear to have the experience or mentality to bring this product to market anytime soon,” a neural engineer said. to the British agency Reuters in March last year. The company was in a race to beat its competitor, Paradromics, a company based in Austin, Texas, which had developed similar technology allowing paralyzed patients to regain some abilities.
In 2021, the company released a video of a monkey playing Pong, the video game for the Atari console, which copied the dynamics of table tennis. The images of the primate became a viral sensation and have been viewed more than six million times. For the first time, the company was able to clearly explain how its implant could revolutionize the future. The novelty was not only the primate, called PagerNot only did he interact with the game, he did so by controlling the controller with his brain after two chips were implanted six months earlier. Elon Musk announced in late 2022 that Neuralink would begin human testing in mid-2023. Today, they are a reality, according to the controversial disruptor.
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