Two monkeys were supposedly moving computer cursors with their brains during a presentation showcasing the Neuralink implant, which Elon Musk hopes will someday connect the human brain to a computer.

Others first documented the feat in a human in 2006, pre-YouTube, and with far more cumbersome technology, tying patients to a computer with a cord.

Mr. Musk's presentation on Wednesday night added nothing significantly to previous demonstrations of the device. He said that the implant could allow people with paralysis to control computers outside of a lab setting. However, experts in the field questioned whether the demonstration showed significant progress with the device, especially given the breadth of work being done across the country.

After observing the presentation, Daniel Yoshor, a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine who has worked with similar devices, said, "These are incremental advances. The hardware is impressive but not a significant step forward in restoring or improving brain function."

He went on to say that while Neuralink's engineering work is significant, the company's results are not.

The device cannot be sold because the company has not received FDA approval. Mr. Musk stated on Wednesday that the company had submitted most of its paperwork to the agency to obtain approval to implant its device in a human. He predicted a human test in six months, but any move toward human trials would be up to the FDA after a thorough evaluation of the risks of surgical implantation and the device's safety.

While Mr. Musk juggles that and other responsibilities — he also runs Tesla and SpaceX — Neuralink is arising from a period of transition. Max Hodak, the company's president, and co-founder, left last year to start his own venture in the field. Jared Birchall, a wealth manager who runs Mr. Musk's family office, is officially the CEO of Neuralink.

The "Link" device, which resembles an inch-wide pile of several coins with hundreds of hair-thin threads, was the focus of Wednesday night's presentation. According to Mr. Musk's 2020 company presentation, a surgical robot would cut a hole in the skull and insert the electrode threads into the brain's gray matter. The coin-shaped piece would be placed flush with the skull.

Leaders in the field of brain-computer control surfaces have closely monitored Neuralink's investment in a device with no protruding wires or hardware. Nonetheless, many of them have been concerned and underwhelmed by Mr. Musk's presentations thus far.

A Neuralink presentation in 2021 of a monkey playing the video game Pong with his mind was similar to a primate demonstration at Brown University in 2001. However, the system was far more clumsy.

Mr. Musk suggested in a 2020 presentation showcasing a pig with the implant that the device could solve conditions such as paralysis and insomnia and could even provide a user with superhuman vision. Such applications sound like science fiction to scientists who are solely focused on restoring basic functions such as typing, speaking, or lifting a fork to those who have lost them due to a spinal cord injury or a dire diagnosis. For such patients, the benefits outweigh brain surgery's minor but significant risks.

"No one is discussing implanting able-bodied people," said Cindy Chestek, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan whose lab is starting to work on restoring function to amputees.

Mr. Musk said on Wednesday night that plans for his device include allowing the blind to see and offering someone with a severed spinal cord full-body functionality, drawing applause from the crowd but not reflecting the field's current state.

Posted 
Dec 4, 2022
 in 
Digital Lifestyle
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