Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of neurotechnology company Neuralink, said the first person to receive an implant from the brain chip startup is recovering well.
The operation is not a surprise: the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the company clearance in September to carry out the first trial of its implantation on humans.
“Initial results show promising neuron spike detection,” Musk said in a post on X on Monday, a day after the chip was implanted.
Spikes are activity by neurons, which the National Institutes of Health describes as cells that use electrical and chemical signals to send information around the brain and into the body. Musk did not provide further details.
In follow-up tweets sent in between arguments about video games and banter with far-right influencers, the businessman said the first Neuralink product was called Telepathy.
“It enables control of your phone or computer, and through them almost any device, just by thinking,” he wrote. “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’s the goal.”
Musk has a long history of making bold promises, but a better record of keeping them. In 2016, he incorrectly predicted that within two years it would be possible for a Tesla to drive autonomously from New York to Los Angeles. That year, he said his SpaceX rocket company would fly to Mars in 2018 — it still hasn’t.
Musk suggested in 2017 that Neuralink’s first product would be on the market “in about four years”. However, Tuesday’s news was a “significant milestone” toward that goal, said Anne Vanhoestenberghe, a professor of active implantable medical devices at King’s College London.
“For the brain chip implant community, we have to put this news in the context that while there are many companies working on exciting products, there are only a few other companies that have implanted their devices in people, so Neuralink has at a fairly small group joined. ,” she added.
“I expect that Neuralink will want to give the participant time to recover before they start training their system with the participant. We know that Elon Musk is very adept at generating publicity for his company, so we can expect announcements once they start testing, although true success in my mind should be evaluated in the long run, by how stable the interface is over time, and how much it benefits the participant.”
The startup’s study, Prime, is a trial for its wireless brain-computer interface to evaluate the safety of the implant and surgical robot. Researchers will assess the functionality of the interface, which allows people with quadriplegia to control devices with their minds, according to the company’s website. Neuralink and Musk did not immediately respond to a request for further details.
Musk replied a crypto influencer on X who quoted him as saying the company would “help restore sight” adding that Blindsight is another product Neuralink has been working on.
Reuters reported this month that Neuralink was fined for violating US Department of Transportation (DoT) rules regarding the movement of hazardous materials.
During inspections of the company’s facilities in Texas and California in February 2023, DoT investigators found the company had failed to register itself as a hazardous materials transporter, agency records show.
They also found improper packaging of hazardous waste, including Xylene, a flammable liquid that can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, loss of muscle coordination and death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last year, Neuralink received FDA approval for its first trial to test the company’s implant in humans, a critical milestone for the startup. Reuters reported in June that the company was valued as high as $5 billion, based on private equity trading.
Neuralink announced the implant trial in September. During the study, the company said a company-developed robot would surgically place the implants’ “ultra-fine” wires that helped transmit signals into participants’ brains.