Let the lame go again ?: Elon Musk's brain chip still has many hurdles to overcome

Paralyzed people who control their wheelchairs with their thoughts alone.

Let the lame go again ?: Elon Musk's brain chip still has many hurdles to overcome

Paralyzed people who control their wheelchairs with their thoughts alone. Blind people who can see again. Elon Musk is working with his company Neuralink on a brain chip that should make this possible. But before a "Show

Elon Musk, that's Tesla, SpaceX, recently also Twitter. But Musk's entrepreneurial ambitions don't stop there. In 2016, together with other investors, he founded the company Neuralink, which claims to be creating the future of "brain-computer interfaces".

It is about nothing less than the direct networking of the human brain with a computer. For this purpose, a chip is to be implanted in the brain, through which thoughts are then supposed to control the computer. According to previous Neuralink information, the chip is slightly larger than two centimeters in diameter and about eight millimeters thick. The chip is connected directly to the nerve cells of the brain using plastic cables that contain electrodes and are thinner than a human hair. A specially developed surgical computer places the chip, which replaces a piece of skullcap. According to Musk, the device should make implanting Neuralinks chips as easy as eye lasers are today.

The radio chip is so powerful that it can already evaluate the signals from the electrodes. To do this, the spikes, the nerve impulses, are recorded and then transmitted to a mobile phone via Bluetooth connection. There you can make them audible and break them down even further. The implant should be charged once a day via induction.

There are already technologies that work on the brain to achieve medical effects. Electrodes in the brain dampen the tremors of Parkinson's patients. Cochlear implants, which are inserted into the cochlea during an ear operation and electrically stimulate the auditory nerve, enable people who were born deaf to hear again. But Musk and other neural engineering companies dream of paralyzed people being able to control their wheelchairs with their thoughts or blind people being able to see again.

However, Neuralink still has a long way to go to get there. Neuralink's last video for the time being was published on April 9, 2021. It shows the rhesus monkey "Pager" who allegedly had a Neuralink chip implanted in each hemisphere of his brain. "Pager" is said to be playing a simple video game on screen using only the power of his mind. Musk had already presented domestic pig Gertrude in 2020, whose brain activities were registered and influenced.

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Britain's Daily Mail, citing laboratory records, says animals "suffered infections from the implanted electrodes placed in their brains." A previously "unapproved substance" known as BioGlue killed monkeys "by destroying parts of their brains." Neuralink confirmed the euthanasia of several animals. In two animals, this was done "in order to collect important histological data". "Six animals were euthanized on the medical advice of UC Davis veterinary staff," according to a Neuralink blog post.

According to the laboratory documents, the implantation site of the chip had become infected in at least one animal, and later internal bleeding, "remains of electrode threads" and destruction of the cerebral cortex caused by a focus of infection were found during the autopsy. Other animals had eye infections, convulsions or showed massive stomach problems. The partnership between Neuralink and UC Davis ended in 2020.

The allegations come at a bad time. To date, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has denied Neuralink approval for its medical devices. This also means that no tests can be carried out on humans. Musk originally wanted to start doing this in 2020.

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