Elon Musk‘s medical technology company Neuralink has reportedly implanted a brain chip into its first human subject. After years of assurances that human trials were imminent, it seems as though they’re finally actually happening.
Musk announced the development on his Twitter/X account on Monday. Though he was light on details, Neuralink’s CEO appeared optimistic about the results, and stated that the patient seemed to be doing fine after the surgery.
The identity of Neuralink’s first human trial subject hasn’t been made public. However, the company’s call for volunteers stipulates that trial participants must be within the U.S., over 18, and have a disability. Specifically, Neuralink is interested in implanting brain chips in people with “quadriplegia, paraplegia, vision loss, hearing loss, the inability to speak, and/or major limb amputation (affecting above or below the elbow and/or above or below the knee).”
For its first human trial, Neuralink sought volunteers who have quadriplegia caused by a cervical spinal cord injury, or who have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Musk has also revealed that Neuralink’s first product is called Telepathy, and is designed to allow disabled people to operate electronic devices with their brain.
“[Telepathy] Enables control of your phone or computer, and through them almost any device, just by thinking,” Musk claimed. “Initial users will be those who have lost the use of their limbs. Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer. That is the goal.”
Revealed last September, Neuralink’s Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface (PRIME) Study aims to assess the safety of its N1 brain implant as well as that of the R1 surgical robot designed to implant it.
“During the study, the R1 Robot will be used to surgically place the N1 Implant’s ultra-fine and flexible threads in a region of the brain that controls movement intention,” Neuralink wrote in a blog post about its first human trial. “Once in place, the N1 Implant is cosmetically invisible and is intended to record and transmit brain signals wirelessly to an app that decodes movement intention. The initial goal of our BCI is to grant people the ability to control a computer cursor or keyboard using their thoughts alone.”
Such technology could be a gamechanger for many people with disabilities once perfected. Unfortunately, its development thus far has not been without gruesome controversy.
A September report by Wired found that the monkeys Neuralink experimented on suffered torturous conditions before they were eventually killed, despite Musk’s claims that none had died as a result of the company’s implants. Neuralink has also come under investigation by the U.S. government for potentially violating animal welfare laws, facing allegations that Musk’s rushed timelines have led to botched experiments and unnecessary pain, suffering, and death on a significant scale.
As such, reasonable apprehension remains about allowing Musk’s company to implant chips into people’s delicate grey matter, despite Neuralink receiving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s approval to proceed with human trials last May.
It’s likely that Neuralink will take more care to avoid mistakes now it’s implanting devices into human brains. Even so, its recent history with live subjects should prompt potential candidates to have a good long think before signing up to be Neuralink’s next brain chip recipient.