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Telepathy Becomes Reality: Neuralink’s Brain-Computer Interface Trials Begin

Neuralink, a neurotech startup owned by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, began clinical trials on January 29th to implant computer chips in the human brain.

일론 머스크의 X 계정에 올린 글. 사진=X 갈무리
A post on Elon Musk’s X account. Photo=X Compilation

Elon Musk announced on the social networking service X (formerly Twitter) that “the first patient received an implant from Neuralink on the 28th” and that “the patient is recovering well.”

He continued, “The first product of Neuralink is called Telepathy,” and “just by thinking, you can control almost all devices, such as mobile phones or computers, and every other device that operates through those.”

He added that “the initial users will be people who cannot use their arms and legs” and “imagine Stephen Hawking communicating faster than a typist or an auctioneer. That’s the goal.”

According to Yonhap News, Neuralink has been developing technology to implant a brain-computer interface (BCI) device in the brain so that people with physical injuries can control various devices just by thinking. The first step is to prevent the computer cursor or keyboard through the BCI.

뉴럴링크 홈페이지에 소개된 뇌인터페이스. 사진=뉴럴링크 홈페이지
Brain-computer introduced on Neuralink’s homepage. Photo=Neuralink Homepage

Musk stressed that “even people who were born blind and have never used their eyes will be able to see.”

The first implantation of Neuralink took place eight months after receiving clinical approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in May last year.

The company announced last year that it is recruiting patients with quadriplegic due to cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) for clinical trials.

Regarding the implantation results, Musk said, “The initial results show promising neuron spike detection.”

Bloomberg cited Kip Ludwig, co-director of the Neural Engineering Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin, as saying this means the company is obtaining records from the patient’s brain.

Neuralink aimed to implant chips at less than 2mm depth in the brain.

This is deeper than the implantation depth of an electronic device developed by another BIC company, Precision Neuroscience, and Bloomberg evaluated that Neuralink has a long way to go.

Neuralink is classified as a latecomer compared to competitors such as Blackrock Neurotech and Synchron, which have already attempted brain implants, and it remains to be seen whether the start of clinical trials will ignite competition in the industry.

Neuralink was also embroiled in controversy over safety as it approached its first brain-computer connection.

The company has been extensively testing on animals since 2016, and four U.S. congressmen claimed last November that “monkeys experienced side effects such as paralysis, seizures, and brain swelling after computer chip implantation, and at least 12 young and healthy monkeys were euthanized.”

They also requested the securities authorities to investigate whether Musk had misled investors about the chip implantation test.

Reuters later reported that an estimated total of 1,500 animals, including sheep, pigs, and monkeys, had died as a result of Neuralink’s experiments since 2018, based on interviews with former and current employees of Neuralink.

As of June last year, the company was valued at $5 billion.

Reuters also reported that Neuralink was fined earlier this month for violating U.S. transportation regulations regarding the movement of hazardous materials.

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