Neuralink First Human Trial

Neuralink, a brain chip startup founded by Elon Musk in 2016, offers a revolutionary technology: brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). These devices aim to create a direct communication channel between the human brain and external systems, bypassing the limitations of our natural senses and muscles. While still in its early stages, Neuralink carries immense potential, sparking both excitement and ethical debates.

Both are ramping up, now that the first human trial subject is showing striking results. One month after the implant, the subject can control a computer mouse with thought.

Brain-in-Machine, Machine-in-Brain

Neuralink’s approach involves implanting tiny, flexible threads equipped with electrodes directly into the brain. These threads then wirelessly transmit neural signals to a receiver implanted under the skin, where they are decoded and sent to external devices. This two-way communication potentially allows people to control computers, prosthetics, or even vehicles directly with their thoughts. People with paralysis could regain lost mobility, while healthy individuals could interact with technology in entirely new ways.

Neuralink also envisions integrating artificial senses, like night vision or thermal imaging, directly into the brain, expanding our perception beyond the natural limitations. Could we directly access and process information, learn new skills, or even enhance memory through neural implants? Such possibilities raise both fascinating and troubling questions.

The first human trial

Neuralink’s technology is still under development, but the FDA gave permission for human trials last year. Initial demonstrations showed monkeys controlling cursors on computer screens with their thoughts, a significant step forward, and now the first human trial has done the same.

Musk announced the success of the first implant, saying that the company is currently working on achieving multiple clicks equivalent to mouse left, mouse right, mouse up and mouse down. Once the subject can accomplish these motions with thought, it would be possible to drag and drop items.

The chip was implanted with robotic surgical tools into the part of the brain that controls intent to move. Subjects recruited for these efforts were quadriplegics suffering from  cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

“Progress is good, and the patient seems to have made a full recovery, with no ill effects that we are aware of. Patient is able to move a mouse around the screen by just thinking,” Musk reported via social media.

Beyond Technology: Ethical Considerations

Neuralink’s potential is accompanied by a multitude of ethical questions. Concerns around privacy, hacking, and potential misuse of personal neural data are major considerations. Furthermore, the implications of directly altering or augmenting human cognition raise philosophical and existential questions. Who controls our thoughts and perceptions in a brain-computer interface? Will such technology exacerbate existing inequalities?

Despite the challenges, Neuralink represents a glimpse into a future where the boundaries between humans and machines blur. While a fully realized “neural lace” as envisioned by Musk may be decades away, the potential applications within healthcare, communication, and even human augmentation are significant. Navigating the ethical and social implications alongside its technological development will be crucial in ensuring this technology serves humanity responsibly and inclusively.