Elon Musk’s brain-computer interface company, Neuralink, recently released a video showcasing a paralyzed individual using their brain implant to control a mouse cursor and play a game of chess. The patient, 29-year-old Noland Arbaugh, who was injured in a diving accident that left him paralyzed below the shoulders, described the experience of using the Neuralink implant as similar to using the Force from the Star Wars franchise. Musk hailed the video as a demonstration of “telepathy,” highlighting the potential of the technology in revolutionizing human-computer interaction.

Aside from playing chess, Arbaugh mentioned that the Neuralink implant enabled him to play Civilization VI for eight hours straight, although he was limited by the need to recharge the implant. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Neuralink permission to conduct in-human clinical trials last year, paving the way for the company to seek test subjects for a six-year trial. While this video is the first instance of Neuralink showcasing a human using their brain implant, it comes after Musk’s announcement in January that the first trial participant was “recovering well” post-implantation.

While the use of a brain-computer interface to control a cursor is not entirely novel, Neuralink’s wireless data transmission capability sets it apart from earlier iterations of the technology that relied on protruding wires. The ability of Arbaugh to engage in conversation while manipulating the cursor is seen as a positive development, indicating progress in the field of brain-computer interfaces. However, experts like Wisconsin Institute for Translational Neuroengineering co-director Kip Ludwig caution against labeling this demo as a “breakthrough,” suggesting that there is still room for improvement and innovation.

Neuralink faces competition from companies like BlackRock and Synchron, which have also demonstrated the use of brain-computer interfaces to assist paralyzed individuals in controlling electronic devices. Synchron’s less-invasive approach, while promising, may not gather as much neural data as Neuralink’s technology. Additionally, other players in the market such as Paradromics and Precision Neuroscience are actively working on brain implants to rival Neuralink’s offerings. Despite the technological advancements, Neuralink has come under fire for its lack of transparency in conducting trials and experiments. Critics have raised concerns about the company’s handling of trials and the outcomes being assessed, pointing to the controversy surrounding the treatment of animals involved in previous experiments.

While Neuralink initially positions its technology as an assistive tool for individuals with disabilities, Musk has expressed intentions to expand its use to enhance the capabilities of healthy individuals in the future. However, this vision of widespread implantation in perfectly healthy individuals remains a distant goal, with ethical and regulatory challenges needing to be addressed before such a scenario becomes a reality. As Neuralink continues to push the boundaries of brain-computer interface technology, the industry awaits further developments and advancements that could shape the future of human-machine interaction.


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