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In the past week, Elon Musk’s Neuralink company implanted its first brain chip in a human, and a Chinese implant gave a paralyzed man mobility. The primary aim of Neuralink is to create a direct communication link between the human brain and external devices or computers. As the debate still rages on regarding the emergence of this neurotechnological breakthrough, it is continuing to be developed at a rapid pace. China’s ambitious goals and Elon Musk’s vision are unsettling to many but a source of hope to those who could potentially benefit.
Tsinghua University in Beijing said on Tuesday that a brain chip allowed a quadriplegic man to grab objects with a prosthetic hand. Neural Electronic Opportunity (NEO) is the name of the implant. The man who received the implant was paralyzed in all his limbs 14 years ago. “With the help of a machine learning algorithm, the patient can independently eat and drink by himself,” the university said, also saying he “will be able to restore multiple hand movements and functions.”
Less Invasive Than Neuralink
The NEO implant, roughly the size of two coins, is intended to be inserted into the skull. In the NEO system, the electrodes are positioned in the epidural space between the brain and the skull, rather than being directly implanted into neural tissue. “Compared with BrainGate, Neuralink and other implanted BCIs, our NEO system has validated a new approach of balancing intracranial BCI performance and invasiveness,” Tsinghua said.
According to Gizmodo, the Chinese government established a new laboratory with a staff of 60 last year and is exclusively dedicated to brain-machine interfaces. China’s goal is to have the products arrive as early as 2025. The country aims to “make breakthroughs in key technologies and core devices such as brain-computer fusion, brain-like chips, and brain-computing neural models,” according to China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
Neuralink is a neurotechnology company founded by Elon Musk with the ambitious goal of developing brain-machine interface technologies. Elon Musk said Neurolink’s implant “enables control of your phone or computer, and through them almost any device, just by thinking.”
On Sunday, Neuralink implanted the first chip in a human. Elon Musk posted to his Social Media X, saying, “The first human received an implant from @Neuralink yesterday and is recovering well. Initial results show promising neuron spike detection.”
China said it wants to use this advanced brain technology in various ways, including driverless cars, virtual reality, and medical rehabilitation. This idea was initially presented by Elon Musk in 2017. The integration of brain technology into these fields holds the potential to redefine them.
Critics are saying China might exploit these brain chips for more nefarious purposes, potentially weaponizing them to conduct surveillance on its own population. This unsettling notion highlights concerns about the potential misuse of brain chips for surveillance and control.
Brain-Computer Connectivity without Implant
In China, researchers have also created a computer device that establishes a connection with the brain through the inner ear. It differs from Neuralink since it’s not an implant. It can still deliver “full-bandwidth data streaming” to the brain, as highlighted in a report by The Independent.
The technology is still in its early stages of development. In recent years, Neuralink has come under scrutiny for the alleged mistreatment of laboratory animals, leading to investigations. It has also seen the departure of multiple company executives. Neuralink confronts a multitude of ongoing challenges. The act of implanting a device is merely the start of a long endeavor spanning decades, characterized by competition in the market, financial obstacles, and ethical dilemmas.
Neuralink brain implants and similar neurotechnology products allegedly have benefits. One significant advantage lies in the prospect of revolutionary medical treatments. Neuralink aims to address neurological disorders and conditions, offering hope to individuals with paralysis, brain injuries, or disorders like Parkinson’s disease.
Good Or Bad?
There’s a huge debate focusing on whether or not brain chips should even be allowed. Regardless, the process of developing this technology is moving forward at a rapid pace with no sign of slowing down. One can only hope and pray that this technology will be used exclusively for good, but judging from the history of the human race, that seems unlikely.
Sam Whisnant is a college student with a talent for writing and a natural curiosity about the world. He combines his academic pursuits with a passion for sharing knowledge in a way that is both informative and engaging to his readers.