Billionaire businessman Elon Musk has announced his brain chip company, Neuralink, has completed its first implant on a human patient.
Writing on X, which he also owns, Musk said the individual is “recovering well” with initial tests showing “promising neuron spike detection.” A neuron is a nerve cell which sends a combination of chemical and electrical signals throughout the body to keep it functioning.
Musk’s tweet suggests that the patient is having increased neuron activity—a “spike”—after receiving the implant.
Musk, who is worth $204 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index, co-founded Neuralink in 2016. The company has developed a fully implantable “brain-computer interface” (BCI) to allow the user to control a computer or mobile device simply by thinking.
Previously the company tested the implants on monkeys, pigs, and sheep but in May last year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared Neuralink for its first human clinical trials.
Musk, who as well as owning social media platform X also leads EV maker Tesla and satellite company Starlink, also confirmed last night that Neuralink’s first product is named Telepathy.
He added the device “enables control of your phone or computer, and through them almost any device, just by thinking.”
On Neuralink‘s website patients can register to become part of the clinical trial, as long as they are adults and are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The company is looking for candidates with medical conditions such as quadriplegia, paraplegia, visual impairment, the inability to speak or major limb amputation.
Musk explained the reasoning for this on X, posting: “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.”
Enables control of your phone or computer, and through them almost any device, just by thinking.
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.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 30, 2024
Indeed, Neuralink writes its mission is to “restore independence and improve lives.”
A matter of hours later Musk dropped another hint. Responding to a post on X which featured a video of Musk talking about how Neuralink aims to help people restore their eyesight. The founder responded: “Telepathy and Blindsight,” perhaps an indication of another product customers can expect to be announced.
Neuralink did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for further comment.
Pushing the boundaries of medicine to the point of brain implants requires some updated tools as well, which is why the company has developed its own surgical robot to carry out the procedures.
On its website Neuralink said the threads of its implants are so fine they cannot be inserted by the human hand. As a result a needle as thin as human hair does the work, meaning the threads are inserted “exactly where they need to be.”
The road so far
Neuralink has also been subject to scrutiny on account of the death of some of its test subject monkeys. However, Musk has clarified multiple times the animals were terminally ill before the surgery.
In February 2022 the business posted a comprehensive blog post about the care and treatment of animal subjects it tests at the University of California’s Davis Primate Center. It added the animals that were selected for trials “may not have proper quality of life due to a pre-existing condition.”
This overview confirmed that two animals had been euthanized at the facility by “planned end dates,” and six more were euthanized at the medical advice of veterinary staff.
“No monkey has died as a result of a Neuralink implant,” Musk wrote on X in September last year, adding that in the company’s early implants, “to minimize risk to healthy monkeys, we chose terminal moneys (close to death already).”
At the New York Times Dealbook conference in November last year, Musk doubled-down on this statement, adding Neuralink’s new primate facility in Fremont, Calif. is “paradise.” Bloomberg Businessweek article in November said the facilities are spacious, with toys, playground equipment and TVs.
Advocates of animal research for medical devices say the research brings lifesaving devices to market without harming humans. Opponents say the research is cruel and often could be conducted in other ways.