Elon Musk, the co-founder of Neuralink, an American neurobiology company, announced on Tuesday that it had successfully installed a brain implant in its first human patient with "promising" initial results.
In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Musk said: “The first human received an implant from @Neuralink yesterday and is recovering well... Initial results show promising neuron spike detection.”
Musk, who acquired Twitter in 2022 through a $44-billion buyout, also gave a name to the implant. “The first @Neuralink product is called Telepathy,” Musk posted on X.
But what exactly is Neuralink and what does this mean for the future of brain computer interface?
Neuralink is a neurotechnology company co-founded by Musk in 2016 that aims to build direct communication channels between the brain and computers.
According to an AFP report, the goal is to supercharge human capabilities, treat neurological disorders like ALS or Parkinson's, and maybe one day achieve a symbiotic relationship between humans and artificial intelligence (AI).
Musk explained his vision of Neuralink on X. “Enables control of your phone or computer, and through them almost any device, just by thinking... 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," Musk said in his post.
Neuralink's technology will mainly work through an implant called the "Link" -- a device about the size of five stacked coins that is placed inside the human brain through invasive surgery. According to data company Pitchbook, last year California-based Neuralink had more than 400 employees and has raised at least $363 million, the AFP report explains.
The implant, which includes a chip and other electronics, sends out brain activity signals that is captured by the Neuralink app using wireless communciations.
According to a Bloomberg report, the app decodes these signals into actions and intents. Charging is done wirelessly and Neuralink has also developed a bespoke surgical robot to perform the implant procedure, the report said.
One similar early device is known as the Utah array, which was first demonstrated in a human in 2004. According to Bloomberg, many competitors have entered the field, including Synchron and Precision Neuroscience. But what makes Neuralink different is that this device contains more than 1,000 electrodes, which is far more than any other brain implant device seen before.
According to the Bloomberg report, The US Food and Drug Administration gave Neuralink approval for clinical trials on humans in May last year, following a series of implant trials on various animals. The company was heavily criticized for its surgical work in animals, particularly primates, by groups such as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which said Neuralink botched many of those surgeries, the report adds.
(With inputs from agencies)