1st Neuralink Human Trial Announced

First Published: Wed Jan 31 2024
Last Updated: Wed Jan 31 2024

Well folks, Elon Musk and Neuralink have announced the first human implantation of the device that they're calling "Telepathy".

Now this isn't the full blown "you will become one with the internet and we will fix your brain" device that Musk has been touting, rather it's a step in that direction. Part of the Prime study, Telepathy is a more specific version of the device, allowing Neuralink to test the ability for the person with the implant to control a device using their brain.

As Musk himself tweeted (or X'd or whatever it's called now).

"It enables control of your phone or computer, and through them almost any device, just by thinking," he wrote. "Initial users will be those who have lost the use of their limbs. Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer. That is the goal."

The implantation into a human IS a big step, especially considering the rather spotty record up until now for Neuralink, what with allegations of animal cruelty and being pinged by the Department of Transport for transporting hazardous materials without the proper registrations.

When I first heard the news, I had conflicting feelings. On the one hand, it cannot be a bad thing that we have another company working on technology that can enable people with varying levels of disability to re-engage with the world around them on their terms. 

On the other hand, the amount of bollocksy marketing cruft about Neuralink going to save the Quads that's been thrown around annoys the hell out of me.

Neuralink is just one of a number of companies and organisations that are working in the brain interface space. Synchron is an Australian/US startup that's developing something called a "Stentrode". Instead of surgically implanting a device directly into the brain they run an electrode surrounded by a wire stent into a blood vessel next to the motor cortex. This takes the signals and then sends them to a device to be translated into signals for the devices being controlled. They're already running human trials

There's also large amounts of work being done in the space of brain/spinal bridges already. Just last year a study was released confirming that a patient with a cervical spinal injury had started walking again thanks to an implanted device. It's cumbersome at the moment and involves a backpack but it is technically wireless.

Look, I can completely understand why someone would want to take part in the Neuralink trials. At the end of the day it does promise to return some measure of independence to the participant, and that is actually really important. I'm just a little sceptical, given the history of the company until now.

Let's see how it goes.