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expert reaction to Elon Musk reporting Neuralink has implanted wireless brain chip in a human

Scientists react to Elon Musk reporting that Neuralink has implanted a wireless brain chip in a human. 


Prof Tara Spires-Jones, President of the British Neuroscience Association, UK Dementia Research Institute Group Leader, and Deputy Director of the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh says:

“The idea of brain-machine interfaces like Neuralink has been around for a while with several companies and many academic scientists working in the area.  The idea of brain-nervous system interfaces has great potential to help people with neurological disorders in future and is an excellent example of how fundamental neuroscience research is being harnessed for medical advances. In recent research trials (not related to Neuralink), scientists have been able to implant brain-spine interfaces which help people with paralysis to walk and other work shows promising results in computers interpreting brain waves and brain scans to allow people who can’t speak to communicate. However, most of these interfaces require invasive neurosurgery and are still in experimental stages thus it will likely be many years before they are commonly available.”


Professor Anne Vanhoestenberghe, Professor of Active Implantable Medical Devices at King’s College London, said:

How significant is this news?

“For any company producing medical devices, the first test in human is a significant milestone. For the brain-computer interface (BCI) community, we must place this news in the context that whilst there are many companies working on exciting products, there are only a few other companies who have implanted their devices in humans, so Neuralink has joined a rather small group.”


What does the procedure aim to achieve?

“Neuralink have not published information about their participant, nor about the specific aim of the trial.  When they announced that they were recruiting, they had a focus on tetraplegia.  If indeed the participant is a person living with tetraplegia, then it is probable that their aim is to enable the participant to control a cursor on the screen of a computer or mobile phone, and through this to interact with apps, and possibly to control some hardware devices.  However, this is conjecture as Neuralink have not published information about the participant.”


When might we find out if it has been successful?

“I expect Neuralink will want to give the participant time to recover before they start training their system with the participant.  We know Elon Musk is very adept at generating publicity for his company, so we may expect announcements as soon as they begin testing, although true success in my mind should be evaluated in the long-term, by how stable the interface is over time, and how much it benefits the participant.”


Is it a safe procedure?

“We have insufficient information.”


Any other comments?

“Neuralink’s activity is bringing attention to a small but very dynamic field.  Whilst there are a few other companies already using their devices in humans and the neuroscience community have made remarkable achievements with those devices, the potential benefits are still significantly limited by technology.  Developing and validating core technology for long term use in humans takes time and we need more investments to ensure we do the work that will underpin the next generation of BCIs, and other active implants.”




Declared interests

Prof Tara Spires-Jones: I have no conflicts with this story.

Professor Anne Vanhoestenberghe: No conflicts of interest stated.

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