Inside the Chip Implant that Neuralink Our Brains and Computers
Elon Musk's Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) company, Neuralink, successfully implanted its first chip in a human for brain connectivity with computers shortly after receiving approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. The Neuralink Brain Chip implant seems exactly like that of Cyborg technology straight out of a sci-fi movie. The neurotechnology company’s stride expands beyond controlling computers through our minds. Its current focus is to help people suffering from cognitive disorders like paralysis, among others.
The techno-king took to his social media platform X to assure the individual’s well-being. He tweeted, "The first human received an implant from @Neuralink and is recovering well. Initial results show promising neuron spike detection."
The recent announcement did not come as a surprise to neuroscientists, considering the number of companies that had already made strides in neurotech decades ago. The goal of Neuralink was initially to integrate artificial intelligence with human brains, as Musk claimed when he established the company in 2016. Its recent goals appear to be in line with the neural keyboards and other computer operating devices that individuals with paralysis now use.
However, Neuralink's rigorous techniques and speed in pursuing those objectives led to federal probes into the transfer of hazardous materials and deceased study animals.
A Connection Beyond the Human Brain and Computers
In another post on X, Musk said Neuralink's first product would be called Telepathy.
Telepathy, he said, would enable "control of your phone or computer, and through them almost any device, just by thinking."
The company wants to help treat complex neurological conditions by using computers to connect with human brains.
Treatment of Neurological Conditions
The present goal of such technology is to empower those suffering from paralysis and other forms of physical and cognitive impairment rather than just making your social media scrolling experience easier. Neuralink, along with several other tech companies, intends to do this through brain implants. This involves connecting certain brain regions to physical circuits that detect signals that ignite in our brains when we try to perform specific activities.
How the Chip is Implanted
According to Neuralink, 64 flexible threads—thinner than a human hair—are surgically inserted into a region of the brain that governs movement intention as part of a six-year study using a robot. According to the company, these threads enable their experimental implant, which is powered by a wirelessly rechargeable battery, to record and transmit brain impulses to an app that decodes the user's intended movement.
Numerous components make up the implant, including sensors to identify any spikes in brain activity and a wirelessly rechargeable battery. An app that decodes how the patient ‘intended’ to move will receive the collected data.
Aside from the safety of brain implantation, one of the main challenges is being able to detect neuron impulses precisely and interpret them effectively. Knowing roughly what's on our minds (literally) enables us to communicate these thoughts to other devices that carry out the task for us.
As Musk puts it, "Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer. That is the goal."
Not Without Critique
While Musk's involvement alone is enough to draw a lot of attention—and criticism—Neuralink's efforts are controversial for reasons that go beyond Musk's presence and involve a number of important considerations.
Claims of Animal Cruelty
Neuralink's testing procedures have come under intense scrutiny due to claims of animal abuse, and this has been one of the contributing factors. Since Neuralink started testing on animals in 2018, more than 1,500 of the creatures have perished in the company's laboratories, according to Reuters. The head of the US Department of Agriculture, which looks into animal welfare issues, stated in July 2023 that the agency has not discovered any violation of the company's animal research regulations.
Still, the government is conducting a separate investigation.
Concerns About the Technology
Another factor to take into account is worries about the technology itself. It is important to note that Neuralink's attempts to obtain FDA approval were not without difficulty. Elon Musk publicly declared, at least four times since 2019, that the company was about to make a breakthrough, only to later backtrack on his statements. The primary reason for the FDA's reluctance to approve brain implants such as the N1 is the lack of clarity surrounding its long-term consequences. In particular, there was and remains uncertainty about the possibility of long-term brain harm from exposure to the implant and its battery.
In addition, there were worries that the chips would overheat, that wires might travel to other parts of the brain, and that the implant might be difficult to remove.
Someone Could be Mind-Eavesdropping Your Thoughts
BCI-related ethical issues are also crucial on a larger scale. A future in which it is possible to gather and interpret brain impulses raises concerns about potential mind-eavesdroppers and the possibility of algorithms taking control of the body, especially in light of recent developments in artificial intelligence.
Still a Promising Support to the Ones with Physical Disability
Neuralink is a promising step toward a world in which our thoughts operate as controllers, effectively saying goodbye to tedious keyboards that stifle creative thought. Simply think about it: your computer will produce an expertly composed email, and your phone will produce your next tweet at the pace of your lightning-quick mind. Neuralink's "Telepathy" chip is aiming for the same goal. According to Musk, those who have lost the use of limbs will be the first users of next-generation technology.
Competitions from Industry Veterans
While Neuralink's visibility is boosted by Musk's involvement, several of his competitors have experience spanning two decades.
Conestant-1: Blackrock Neurotech
In 2004, the Utah-based company Blackrock Neurotech implanted the first of several brain-computer interfaces. Patients allegedly benefitted from their technology by being able to control cursors, grab items, and even play video games with just their thoughts.
Another noteworthy company is Synchron, a firm that is supported by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos and focuses on brain implants. This startup uses a minimally invasive technique whereby BCI devices are implanted into the brain through a blood artery. Due to this reason, open brain surgery is no longer necessary, which may make it more widely available.
Contestant-3: Precision Neuroscience
One of Neuralink's co-founders founded Precision Neuroscience with the same goal of aiding paralyzed individuals. Furthermore, the implant resembles a very thin piece of tape that rests on the brain's surface. It claims that implanting it via a "cranial micro-slit" is a far simpler process.