Elon Musk’s Neuralink chip suffers unexpected setback in first inhuman brain implant

Elon Musk’s Neuralink chip suffers unexpected setback in first inhuman brain implant
  • PublishedMay 10, 2024

Elon Musk’s brain-chip start-up Neuralink suffered an unexpected problem in its first-ever human implant as the device began to detach from the patient’s skull — reducing the amount of data it could capture, the company has revealed.

Neuralink’s brain-computer interface, known as a BCI, was implanted into 29-year-old patient Noland Arbaugh’s brain in January.

The chip is designed to help patients with paralysis control external technology using only their mind, and Arbaugh — who is paralysed from the shoulders down due to a diving accident eight years ago — is participating in Neuralink’s six-year trial to test the device’s safety.

Noland Arbaugh became paralysed from the shoulders down after a diving accident eight years ago. Picture: Facebook

Noland Arbaugh became paralysed from the shoulders down after a diving accident eight years ago. Picture: Facebook

At age 29 he became the first human test subject of Neuralink’s brainchip when a robot surgeon plugged the implant into his brain in January. Picture: CaringBridge

At age 29 he became the first human test subject of Neuralink’s brainchip when a robot surgeon plugged the implant into his brain in January. Picture: CaringBridge

Just last month, Neuralink livestreamed a nine-minute video of Arbaugh showing how the BCI technology works.

He was seen playing video games, and explained that he simply imagines the cursor moving where he wants it to go and it does.

Neuralink’s chip contains 1024 electrodes across 64 “threads” — which are thinner than a strand of human hair — that are programmed to gather data about the brain’s neural activity and movement intention and send that data to the company’s computer for decoding to transform the thoughts into action.

However, in the weeks since the astounding video, “a number of threads retracted from [Arbaugh’s] brain, resulting in a net decrease in the number of effective electrodes,” Neuralink said in a blog post Wednesday earlier reported on by the Wall Street Journal.

As a result, Neuralink was not able to measure how effectively its system of electrodes and threads was performing.

It was unclear how many threads have detached.

Neuralink said its brain-computer interface, known as a BCI — which uses electrodes and threads to gather data about the brain’s neural activity and movement — suffered an unexpected setback.

“In response to this change, we modified the recording algorithm to be more sensitive to neural population signals, improved the techniques to translate these signals into cursor movements, and enhanced the user interface,” Neuralink added, insisting that the refinement will enhance the accuracy of Arbaugh’s ability to control the cursor’s bits per second (BPS).

BPS, according to the company, is “the standard measure for speed and accuracy.”

“These refinements produced a rapid and sustained improvement in BPS, that has now superseded Noland’s initial performance,” Neuralink said.

The company — which recently changed its home base from Delaware to Nevada after Musk’s spat with a Delaware judge who invalidated his $56 billion pay package at Tesla — considered removing the implant, but the problem hasn’t posed a direct risk to Arbaugh’s safety, the Journal reported.

Elon Musk. Picture: Apu Gomes/Getty

Elon Musk. Picture: Apu Gomes/Getty

Even so, the possibility of removing Arbaugh’s implant, a so-called “explanation,” was floated, people familiar with the matter told the Journal.

He became the first human test subject of the chip developed by the Musk-owned company when a robot surgeon plugged the implant into his brain. It wasn’t immediately clear how many others will participate in the trial, or where they’ll be held.

Despite the snafu, Arbaugh reportedly is using Neuralink’s BCI system for around eight hours a day on weekdays, and as many as 10 hours on the weekends.

“Now I can literally just lie in bed and play to my heart’s content,” he said in the March livestream — or at least until the battery of his rechargeable chip dies.

Neuralink, founded in 2016, has mostly kept information about its technology and human trials under wraps — prompting calls for greater transparency.

The US Food and Drug Administration greenlit human trials of the brain chip last year after the company did hundreds of tests on animals — and faced backlash from animal rights groups in the process.

For his part, Arbaugh has said he signed on to try the implant because he “wanted to be a part of something that I feel like it’s going to change the world.”

SOURCE: NEWS.COM

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