Elon Musk’s Neuralink has tested its very first human brain implant.

In January, Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of the brain-chip startup Neuralink, announced that the first human patient had received a brain implant and was doing well. “Preliminary findings indicate encouraging neuron spike identification,” Musk wrote in a post on the social media site X. Neurons, which the National Institute of Health defines as cells that use chemical and electrical signals to send information to and from the body throughout the brain, are the source of spikes in activity.

The Neuralink brain chip, created by Elon Musk’s company, is a significant advancement in brain-computer interface (BCI). This device is about the size of a coin and is implanted in the patient’s skull, with threads 20 times thinner than a human hair and 1,024 electrodes to monitor brain activity, stimulate the organ, and wirelessly transmit data. The potential applications are numerous, ranging from allowing people with paralysis or locked-in syndrome to control external devices to assisting in the treatment of serious neurological disorders like Parkinson’s or ALS. Elon Musk’s long-term goals include restoring speech, hearing, and mobility in quadriplegics, as well as the ability to preserve and share memories.

The implant is placed using a precise surgical procedure that lasts about two hours and is carried out by a surgical robot designed specifically for this purpose. The chip, known as “Link,” records and wirelessly transmits brain signals, allowing users to control computers and other devices simply by thinking. This advancement has the potential to transform the lives of over 200,000 people who already use some form of brain-computer interface (BCI), primarily for medical purposes, such as cochlear implants for the deaf or devices to prevent epileptic seizures.

Despite the potential benefits, there are ethical and security concerns with the chip. Concerns have been raised about the device’s safety, particularly regarding the lithium battery and the possibility of interference with other brain areas. Furthermore, the surgery, like any other surgical procedure, may result in complications, raising new concerns about data privacy and security. Experts are still sceptical about the promised benefits of the implants, and stress the uncertainty about long-term effects on patients having received the implant.

Following FDA approval, the Neuralink company began human clinical trials. Although these developments are encouraging, additional clinical trials and safety testing are required before the device can be widely adopted. The technology detects electrical brain signals through electrodes implanted in the brain, which then communicate with a computer via a wireless device placed behind the ear, opening up new avenues for interacting with technology and treating a variety of medical conditions.

Brain implants have been the focus of research and development for some time. In the early twentieth century, neuroscientists began experimenting with electrical brain stimulation. However, the conceptual foundations date from the 18th and 19th centuries. The first cochlear implant, which restored hearing to people who had lost it, was implanted in 1969. The first rudimentary BCIs emerged in the 1970s. In 1976, some researchers used stationary electrodes to record “action potential signals” in monkeys’ motor cortex.

Deep brain stimulation was approved as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease in the United States in 1997. For example, in 2018, wireless spinal implants enabled paraplegics to walk.  Today, more precise electrodes are available for recording and stimulating neural activity, and the surface chemistry of implants is being extensively studied to reduce negative effects on the brain and body. Brain implants have evolved from their inception into an exciting area of research with medical applications and the potential to transform how we interact with technology and understand our brains.

Author: Andrés Castillo, Carlos Martín















Neuralink, Brain implants, brain-chips, Elon Musk, brain-computer interface (BCI)