What is Neuralink? Elon Musk’s wireless brain chip explained

The electronic device is designed to translate a person’s brain activity into motor responses, bringing telepathy out of science fiction books into the real world.

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Neuralink has successfully implanted its flagship brain chip, Telepathy, into a human as part of its Prime trial, which is seeking to develop the technology to allow computers to connect directly with the human brain.

Previously described by Elon Musk as “a Fitbit in your skull”, the technology is capable of monitoring around 1,000 neurons, which are responsible for sending signals throughout the body to emit responses in external devices like phones or trigger movement and bodily functions.

The electronic device, made up to a tin implant with more than 3,000 electrodes, is designed to connect to the Neuralink app, where it processes the information gathered from the recipient’s brain activity and translates it into commands and actions.

Billionaire X owner, Musk, said the initial results of the trial showed promising neuron spike detection and that the recipient of the chip is recovering well.

What is Neuralink?

Neuralink was founded by Elon Musk and a team of seven scientists and engineers back in California in 2016 to create a generalised brain interface. The ultimate goal is to restore autonomy to those with unmet medical needs, like quadriplegia or other forms of paralysis.

Musk has previously said the technology would first be deployed to those who have lost their limbs, although the chip could be designed to cure a range of conditions like obesity, autism, depression, and schizophrenia.

The trials for Telepathy will take approximately six years to complete, and the company is now looking for volunteers who suffer from quadriplegia, are at least 22 years old, and have a consistent and reliable caregiver.

Where there’s Musk, there’s fire

Controversy has preceded the successful announcement of the surgical procedure, as an investigation by Wired found that testing of the chip on monkeys led to several animal deaths, despite Musk denying the claims.

According to documents from the investigation, including veterinary records, as many as 12 primates endured suffering during the trials, which resulted in their euthanization.

Reuters reported the company is valued at $5bn based on private stock trades.

But – in a similar vein to the employee engagement issues and toxic work culture at X (formerly Twitter) – former Neuralink employees described a chaotic company culture back in a 2020 STAT News interview, detailing how rushed timelines were clashing with the slow nature of developing such a complex medical product.

The company has not commented on any negative side effects of its testing, but back in 2022 the US Food and Drug Administration refused Neuralink permission to test its chip on humans because of concerns of how the device would move inside the brain.

Chips for brains: what’s next?

Musk’s biotech startup isn’t the only horse in the race. Blackrock Neuro Tech are working on a similar product and has already implanted 50 chips into people’s brains in the hopes of improving the lives of people with paralysis and depression.

In terms of the technological race, Musk’s startup is not a leader, as Blackrock Neuro Tech patients have received implants as far back as 2014.

The ethical concerns for the technology, regardless of who leads the biotech brain chip firm, are similar.

Experts have brought attention to how these brain chips could unlock human enhancement – augmenting what the human brain is capable of doing, like human cognition, sensory perception, or physical abilities.

The company has not commented on any negative side effects of its testing, but back in 2022 the US Food and Drug Administration refused Neuralink permission to test its chip on humans because of concerns of how the device would move inside the brain.

Written by:
Fernanda is a Mexican-born Startups Writer. Specialising in the Marketing & Finding Customers pillar, she’s always on the lookout for how startups can leverage tools, software, and insights to help solidify their brand, retain clients, and find new areas for growth. Having grown up in Mexico City and Abu Dhabi, Fernanda is passionate about how businesses can adapt to new challenges in different economic environments to grow and find creative ways to engage with new and existing customers. With a background in journalism, politics, and international relations, Fernanda has written for a multitude of online magazines about topics ranging from Latin American politics to how businesses can retain staff during a recession. She is currently strengthening her journalistic muscle by studying for a part-time multimedia journalism degree from the National Council of Training for Journalists (NCTJ).

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