31 January 2024
Elon Musk says his company Neuralink has placed an experimental brain device in a person in the first human test of the technology.
Neuralink describes the coin-sized device as a "brain-computer interface." It is designed to be implanted inside the brain through a medical operation.
Musk announced the news on the social media service he owns, X. The billionaire businessman is also the owner of Tesla and SpaceX. His company Neuralink aims to establish direct communication links between the brain and computers.
"The first human received an implant from @Neuralink (Sunday) and is recovering well," Musk wrote. He added that first results of the implanted device showed "promising neuron spike" activity.
A spike is a term for a method neurons use to communicate with each other. The Cambridge Learner's Dictionary defines a neuron as "a nerve cell that carries messages between your brain and other parts of your body."
The device includes an extremely small computer and extremely thin wires that connect to a part of the brain that controls intent of movement.
Neuralink says the implant is designed to treat brain disorders and help serious back injury victims regain body movement. Company officials also say it might be used one day to help blind people see again.
The company has said an early goal of the brain-computer interface will be to give people the ability to control basic computer tasks using thoughts alone. Musk says that in the future, the device might also be used to improve human intelligence in an effort to keep up with supercomputers and artificial intelligence (AI) technology.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved human testing of the Neuralink device last May.
Neuralink reposted Musk's statement about the implant in a message on X.
In another message on X, Musk wrote that the first Neuralink product is called "Telepathy." He said the goal of the product is to permit users to control smartphones or computers "just by thinking." Musk also noted the first users would be people who have lost the use of their arms or legs.
It remains unclear how well the brain-computer interface system or similar devices will work in humans. FDA-approved trials, like the one permitted for Neuralink, aim to collect data on the safety and effectiveness of proposed products.
Neuralink is not alone in developing systems designed to link the human nervous system to computers. The website clinicaltrials.gov reports there are currently more than 40 brain computer interface trials going on in places around the world.
Reuters reported that in the past, Neuralink was fined by the U.S. Department of Transportation for violating rules covering the movement of dangerous substances. The fines against Neuralink totaled $2,480 and the company agreed to fix its problems concerning the violations, the news agency said.
Neuralink carried out earlier trials of the implant using monkeys, pigs and sheep. Reuters has also reported on the company's animal experiments in the past.
Some Neuralink employees told Reuters in 2022 the company had made mistakes in its animal testing. They said the mistakes came because the process was hurried. This led to more animal deaths than necessary, the employees said.
In one 2021 case, Reuters reported that Neuralink implanted 25 out of 60 pigs with the wrong-sized devices. All the pigs were later killed. Employees told the news agency such mistakes could have been easily avoided with more preparation.
Last September, Musk wrote in a social media message that "no monkey has died as a result of a Neuralink implant." He added that the company chose "terminal" monkeys to limit risks to healthy animals.
I'm Bryan Lynn.
Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Neuralink.
Words in This Story
interface – n. a connection between two pieces of electronic equipment, or between a person and a computer
implant – n. a device placed inside the body in a medical operation
spike – n. a sudden change or rise in something
intent – n. what a person wants and plans to do
blind – adj. lacking or deficient in sight
terminal – adj. nearing or close to death: being in the final stages of a deadly disease