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Updated Jan 30, 2024, 2:43pm EST
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Elon Musk’s Neuralink has its first human patient… and competition

Insights from Gizmodo, Bloomberg, and New Scientist

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Neuralink, a brain-computer interface company, is pictured in Suqian, Jiangsu province, China, on Jan. 30, 2024.
CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images
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Brain-computer company Neuralink implanted a device in a live human patient for the first time, founder Elon Musk said Monday, marking a significant step for the startup seeking to allow humans to communicate externally using just their thoughts.

Musk said the patient is “recovering well,” and that data from the implant was promising. U.S. authorities gave Musk the green light last year to start human clinical trials after a series of controversial animal tests. Neuralink was the subject of a federal probe after killing about 1,500 animals, including sheep, pigs and monkeys, Reuters reported in 2022, though the agency didn’t identify any animal research rule violations.

Several companies, including overseas competitors, are already working on human brain implants, though experts say Neuralink’s is more expansive and could allow for greater precision.

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Musk has lofty goals for brain implants

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Sources:  
New Scientist, The Washington Post, Wired

Researchers hope brain implants could eventually be used to enable paralyzed people regain movement and control prosthetics, but Musk has “angled for a wider application” and said the tech could enhance general human function, The Washington Post wrote. A neuroscience ethics researcher said a world “where some people are cognitively enhanced and others aren’t could create a class divide like nothing ever.” Musk has also pitched an ambitious goal of using Neuralink to “achieve a symbiosis with artificial intelligence,” though it’s unclear what that might look like.

Competition for brain implant innovation is heating up

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Sources:  
BBC, Smithsonian Magazine, Gizmodo, Bloomberg

While Musk’s work may get the most attention, other companies have already demonstrated successful human implants: An institute in Switzerland has enabled a paralyzed man to walk just by thinking, and a team at Stanford University allowed a man to effectively type just by thinking about handwriting. Brain implants could present “the greatest international technology battle of the next decade,” Gizmodo wrote, after China’s industry and tech ministry said this week that the country hopes to develop a “brain-computer interface” by 2025. The “life-changing potential” of brain implants is obvious, Bloomberg’s Dave Lee said. “If it takes Musk’s skill for publicity to inject some urgency and financial backing — I think that’s a good thing.”

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