Elon Musk's Neuralink: Brain implant for the "telepathic" use of computers

Elon Musk announced yesterday on his platform X, formerly Twitter, that one of his other companies called Neuralink has used a brain implant in a human for the first time. The person in question should recover well and the implant should also give the first promising signals. Musk later named the implant’s product name “Telepathy.” I have summarized below what this is all about, how long Neuralink has been around, what goals Musk is pursuing with the company and what else you should know about neural implants from private companies.

Neuralink is the first to use a brain-computer interface (BCI) in a human brain. You can find the most important information about the implant called “Telepathy” here. Graphic: symbolic image
Neuralink is the first to use a brain-computer interface (BCI) in a human brain. You can find the most important information about the implant called “Telepathy” here. Graphic: symbolic image

What kind of company is Neuralink?

Neuralink is a startup that was launched in July 2016 by Elon Musk and eight investors. The goal of the company is to develop a device that enables computers to be operated directly from the brain. Such a brain-computer interface (BCI) is now said to have been used in a human in the form of a neuroprosthesis.

Have brain implants of this type already been researched?

Yes, Neuralink is not breaking completely new ground in this area. Research in this area has been going on for several decades and there are already several examples of applications. Although not for commercial use, to enable otherwise healthy people to operate a computer in a new way, but in the medical field. People with neuronal trauma can regain their quality of life through neuroprostheses. Brain and spinal cord implants have also been used for monitoring, warning of seizures, etc. in cases of paralysis, Parkinson's disease or epilepsy.

So what's so new about Neuralink's Telepathy device?

Telepathy, or the prototype device now used in a human, is intended to work more precisely than certain other devices and interfaces before. It uses more than 1.000 electrodes and thus addresses individual neurons. Other devices use fewer electrodes and usually address collections of neurons, for example to measure brain waves or monitor certain areas of the brain. The goal of Neuralink is precise communication with individual nerve cells as well as brain-computer interaction using the connections established.

How does communication between brain and computer work?

The implant consists of a chip, additional electronics and electrodes inserted into the brain. All of this is housed completely in the skull of the person in question. Communication with the Neuralink app on the target device works wirelessly. The app then interprets the incoming signals and translates them into actions and commands. The implant battery is charged wirelessly.

What is the goal of Neuralink brain implants?

At the beginning, paralyzed people should be helped to communicate better and to use computers and smartphones with their minds. Ultimately, after further research and further test runs, people with hearing or vision loss should also be helped. But it wouldn't be a Musk company if it didn't also have the goal of eventually merging humans with AI.

How was the implantation carried out?

Neuralink has developed a customized surgical robot that can carry out the implantation.

Was Neuralink's surgery performed legally?

Yes. Neuralink has had permission to conduct clinical trials on humans in the USA since May 2023. A number of animal experiments were carried out before the permit was granted.

What do we know about animal testing?

Among other things, experiments are said to have been carried out on primates. Neuralink or the University of California, which was commissioned with $1,4 million, is said to have botched it and not adhered to standards. As early as February 2022, there was a lawsuit against the University of California by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. This is in connection with the accusation that invasive and ultimately fatal procedures were carried out on at least 23 monkeys on behalf of Neuralink.

What happens next for the first test person?

She will help test telepathy and improve the implant's design. In addition, up to ten more people are scheduled to undergo surgery and be fitted with the implant this year. The goal is to conduct a study to further research the BCI.

What other information is there about the telepathy study?

Since it is still at the very beginning, one can only speculate as to what will happen next. This type of neuroprosthesis study has previously involved five to ten people and an initial phase of one year - this is the feasibility study. This is followed by the key study, which can take five to ten years. Further research and development is taking place in parallel. The first commercial offers from Neuralink are not expected until the turn of the next decade at the earliest.

What should you consider when considering implants from private companies?

This is exactly the topic we have already addressed in June: The newsreel for week 22 in 2023 was about the paper “How I became myself after merging with a computer: Does human-machine symbiosis raise human rights issues?” and the question of whether it is a human rights violation to have people helping them To remove implants if, for example, the operating company goes bankrupt. If you're interested, you'll find it here is the PDF on this.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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5 comments on “Elon Musk’s Neuralink: Brain implant for the “telepathic” use of computers”

  1. “Telepathy” should not legally be used as a name for a device that meets medical and human needs. This is true even if the important part of the name needs to be changed for scientific reasons. Telepathy is usually an ability, not a device.

    1. Well, it should also be a device that gives the user this ability - if you want to put it that way. But as far as I know, “telepathy” doesn’t appear in the name “Neuralink” either… so the name change shouldn’t be necessary. ;-)

    2. I don't think any state will regulate a tech company naming its product after a parapsychological "ability." Apple doesn't sell real visions with its “Vision Pro” headset, and Nintendo has never made a boy despite the product name “Game Boy”. Meta’s “Quest” doesn’t send anyone on a mission, and neither the “Macintosh” nor its manufacturing company grow on trees. And also: telepathy is by no means “normally an ability”. I consider claiming this to be spreading false information.

  2. “But it wouldn’t be a Musk company if there wasn’t also the goal of eventually merging humans with AI.”

    We are the Borg. Their biological and technological peculiarities are added to ours. Resistance is futile.

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