Elon Musk technology

What does Elon Musk’s Neuralink do? + Implantable brain machine interfaces: in-human studies

Neuralink Corporation is a neurotechnology company that develops implantable brain–computer interfaces (BCIs).

Co-founded by Elon Musk, Max Hodak, Dongjin “DJ” Seo, and Paul Merolla, the company’s headquarters is in the Pioneer Building in San Francisco sharing offices with OpenAI.

Neuralink was launched in 2016 and was first publicly reported in March 2017.
The neurotech startup has created implantable chips that aim to help people who are blind to see and people who are paralyzed to walk.

Implantable brain machine interfaces: first-in-human studies, technology challenges and trends

Implantable brain machine interfaces (BMIs) are now on a trajectory to go mainstream, wherein what was once considered last resort will progressively become elective at earlier stages in disease treatment. First-in-human successes have demonstrated the ability to decode highly dexterous motor skills such as handwriting, and speech from human cortical activity.

These have been used for cursor and prosthesis control, direct-to-text communication and speech synthesis. Along with these breakthrough studies, technology advancements have enabled the observation of more channels of neural activity through new concepts for centralised/distributed implant architectures. This is complemented by research in flexible substrates, packaging, surgical workflows and data processing. New regulatory guidance and funding has galvanised the field. This culmination of resource, efforts and capability is now attracting significant investment for BMI commercialisation. This paper reviews recent developments and describes the paradigm shift in BMI development that is leading to new innovations, insights and BMI translation.

What is NEURALINK Developing?

Founded in 2016 by Musk and a group of engineers, Neuralink is building a brain chip interface that can be implanted within the skull, which it says could eventually help disabled patients to move and communicate again, and also restore vision.

Neuralink has produced several examples of testing aspects of its technology successfully on animals, including a video in 2021 that showed a macaque playing a simple videogame after being implanted with a brain chip. In a presentation webcast last week, the company showcased improvements in the speed and capabilities of the chip.

Neuralink tech to help people with quadriplegia walk

Previously, Neuralink showed how its electrodes can listen in on brain activity. By capturing the brain signals from a monkey named Pager that played the classic Pong video game, Neuralink computers learned to interpret motor control signals. Later, the monkey’s brain signals alone could control the game.

At Neuralink’s “show and tell” event, designed to recruit new talent, the company showed a new trick: A monkey named Sake used its mind to follow prompts and type on a virtual keyboard. The implants charge wirelessly, with monkeys coaxed by a fruit smoothie to sit beneath a charger embedded in a branch immediately above their heads.

But Wednesday’s biggest developments used those same electrodes to send signals back to the neurons that make up the brain and nervous system.

Elon Musk’s Neuralink under federal investigation for animal treatment

Elon Musk’s pressure to rush research, according to reports, leads to botched experiments and an increase in animal deaths

Neuralink, the Elon Musk company that Reuters reported is the target of a federal investigation over its animal trial program, has been trying to develop a brain chip that would enable the paralyzed to walk and the blind to see.

Neuralink, the brain implant startup co-founded by Elon Musk, is under federal investigation for potential animal welfare violations and complaints from staff that its rushed animal testing is causing unnecessary suffering and death, Reuters reported Monday.

The investigation, opened by the US Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General Office, focuses on the Animal Welfare Act, which details how researchers should conduct the treatment and testing of animals, according to Reuters.

Musk has reportedly been telling employees since the company was launched in 2016 to imagine that they had a bomb strapped to their heads in an effort to make them move faster. He also reportedly told staff that he would trigger a “market failure” unless they made progress, which some employees interpreted as a warning that he would shut down the company. Earlier this year, Musk also sent staff members an email with an article about Swiss researchers who created an implant that helped a paralyzed person walk again, Reuters said. “In general, we are simply not moving fast enough. It is driving me nuts!” he reportedly wrote in a follow-up email.

Upon reviewing internal testing documentation, Reuters said it found four experiments involving 86 pigs and two monkeys with results that were rendered questionable by human errors. Neuralink had to repeat those experiments, leading to more deaths. A message written by an angry employee talked about how rushed animal surgeries had led to under-prepared and overstressed employees who ended up making mistakes. A couple of examples Reuters found in the documents detailed how Neuralink staff implanted the company’s brain-machine interface device on the wrong vertebra of two different pigs — something that could’ve been easily prevented by counting the animals’ vertebrae — forcing the team to kill them to end their suffering.

Elon Musk Hopes to Test a Brain Implant in Humans Next Year

The tech multibillionaire said his company, Neuralink, was seeking government approval to test his device in people, and predicted it could happen in six months. Others have been conducting similar tests for years, but no device has been marketed commercially.

In a presentation showcasing the Neuralink implant that Elon Musk hopes will someday connect the human brain to a computer, two monkeys were reportedly moving computer cursors with their brains.

The feat was first documented by others in a human in 2006 in the pre-YouTube era and with technology that is far more cumbersome, mooring patients to a computer with a cord.

Mr. Musk’s presentation on Wednesday night offered little that was significantly new from previous demonstrations of the device. He continued to claim that the implant could make computer control possible for people with paralysis outside of a lab setting. But experts in the field questioned whether the demonstration showed major progress with the device, especially given the breadth of work underway nationwide.

“These are incremental advances,” Daniel Yoshor, a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who has worked with similar devices, said after watching the presentation. “The hardware is impressive but does not represent a dramatic advance in restoring or enhancing brain function.”

Screening protocol

All study procedures were approved by the University of Miami Institutional Review Board and the US FDA ( NCT02564419).

A total of 21 subjects (4 female) with C5/C6 motor complete SCI, according to the International Standards for Neurological Classification of Spinal Cord Injury (ISNSCI), provided written informed consent for screening with an EEG-based protocol (see Supplementary methods) to test their ability to trigger a FES device based on EEG signals produced while performing motor imagery of dominant hand movement and rest.59 Subjects had to be 18–50 years old and have a chronic injury (>1-year post-injury) with a C5 or C6 motor level according to the ISNCSCI60 and had to achieve sufficient hand opening/closing with FES to allow grasping (Supplementary Tables 1 and 2). A total of 17 subjects participated in the EEG screening over 1–10 weeks. One subject, 5 years post-injury, qualified for and consented to the surgical implantation and completed all 16 sessions of EEG screening.

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