Elon Musk’s Neuralink Implants Brain Chip
Elon Musk’s Neuralink Implants Brain Chip
  • Reporter Park So-mang
  • 승인 2024.02.29 11:59
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▲Elon Musk’s post announcing first chip in human brain / X
▲Elon Musk’s post announcing first chip in human brain / X




  On his social media platform X, Elon Musk announced that his startup Neuralink had implanted a wireless brain chip in a human brain on Jan. 29. “Initial results show promising neuron spike detection,” he added in his post. 

  Neuralink is a brain-computer interface (BCI) company that is making devices to give autonomy to patients with medical issues in the brain. The device, BCI, reads and decodes brain signals, aiming to enable a person to move their paralyzed body, use a computer, or do any other tasks by thought alone. There are mainly two types of BCI: invasive and non-invasive. The one that Neuralink is researching is invasive BCI, which implants a physical computer chip in a human brain. Invasive BCI is more effective in acquiring brain signals than non-invasive BCI. However, ethical and medical issues surrounding the implantation of a post-surgery brain chip are what make experts hesitant about the technology. 


Lack of Information

  What concerns researchers is the lack of information and transparency about Neuralink’s human trial. Very few details, if any, have been disclosed to the public, regarding the trial. Many news media companies, including Reuters, CNN, and BBC, have reached out to Neuralink for further details; however, Neuralink did not respond. Tim Denison, a neuroengineer at the University of Oxford, says, “We need to see the protocol. Not knowing raises questions about ethical compliance.”

  Neuralink got approval for a human trial on brain implants from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in May 2023. Nevertheless, the trial is not registered at ClinicalTrials.gov, the U.S. National Institutes of Health website. According to Nature, clinical trials are usually registered at the site, and its protocols are uploaded for participants to see before enrolling. Furthermore, most medical journals require such registration mandatory for the publication of the research result. Nature asked Neuralink the reason for not registering the trial on the website, but it did not respond. 


Patient Safety

  At this stage, the patient’s safety should be the priority. Since Musk said the first participant was “recovering well” on his social media post, at least the surgery seems to have been successful, without incurring any further medical issues. Nonetheless, it is just the beginning; there is much more to tackle. The implanted device could potentially cause strokes, bleeds, or any type of damage to the brain; and the current status of the patient does not guarantee the safety of the device in the long term. 

  Additionally, Musk posted that the initial results showed “promising neuron spike detection,” but the brain signals could degrade over time. It is not like one can easily change the brain chip after implantation. Hence, the next key point of the trial is to see whether the implanted device would record and decode neuronal signals with our without minimal quality loss over a long period, meaning several months to a few years.


Could it be a Scam?

  Meanwhile, some experts are worried about Musk’s marketing on the brain chip which is capable of giving false hope or exaggerated fantasies to the public. Miguel Nicolelis, a renowned professor in neuroscience at Duke University, criticized Elon Musk, saying, “Mr. Musk does not understand a bit of neuroscience and what is the brain.” In an interview with Inverse, Nicolelis pointed out that what Neuralink has done is nothing new but selling what other researchers have done previously. “We had a wireless implant [in monkeys] since 2014,” he added to explain the video that Neuralink released in 2021 of a monkey with the implanted chip is not something innovative or sensational. Nicolelis stressed that ethical questions and patients’ safety must be handled before testing fancy technologies. 


Thoughts on BCI and Neuralink

  BCIs certainly have the benefit of unlocking the potential of people with paralysis. However, invasive devices should be handled more cautiously because any problem with the device can be fatal to the patient. Furthermore, invasive BCI is not the only option. There are non-invasive devices that can be studied first. Researchers should find the safest way to check the effectiveness of BCI on people with paralysis, or similar needs, and then research methods to improve the technology. Technology should never come at the cost of human beings. Moreover, Elon Musk’s Neuralink has the underlying goal of downloading memories and computerizing the human brain. Who knows whether Musk might try to explore merging his humanoids with the human brain?


▲Neuralink’s brain chip / ABC News
▲Neuralink’s brain chip / ABC News