Elon Musk’s Neuralink is ready to be implanted in another volunteer

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Neuralink’s experimental brain implant will soon be given to another person, according to the company’s co-founder Elon Musk.

In a video update on Wednesday, Musk said the surgery is planned to take place “in the next week or so.” The company is making changes to the surgical procedure and placement of the device to avoid problems that occurred with its first participant, whose implant partially detached from the brain a few weeks after surgery.

Neuralink is developing a brain-computer interface, or BCI, that controls an external device using a person’s brain signals. Its first product, called Telepathy, aims to help paralyzed people operate computers using just their thoughts. Musk has said Neuralink is working on a second product called Blindsight, which would provide artificial vision to blind people.

“One way to think about the Neuralink device is like a Fitbit or an Apple Watch with little wires or electrodes,” Musk said in the video, which was livestreamed on his social media platform X. In the short term, the Neuralink device is meant to help people with disabilities, but Musk said his long-term goal is to use BCI technology “to reduce the civilizational risk of AI through a closer symbiosis between human intelligence and digital intelligence.”

Right now, the company is running an early feasibility study to evaluate the safety and functionality of its device in paralyzed people. As part of the study, Noland Arbaugh became the first person to receive Neuralink’s brain implant in January. Arbaugh is paralyzed from the shoulders down due to a swimming accident in 2016.

Neuralink’s coin-sized implant is inserted into the skull and consists of 64 flexible wire threads that are thinner than a human hair and extend into the brain tissue. Each thread has 16 electrodes that collect the desired movement signals from neurons.

At first, the device worked well. Arbaugh was able to use the cursor just by thinking about it, allowing him to play video games, email friends, and browse the Internet. But a few weeks after the surgery, the implant began to malfunction and Arbaugh lost control of the cursor.

In a blog post on its website in May, Neuralink said that Arbaugh had several threads removed from his brain, resulting in a reduction in the number of effective electrodes. In response, Neuralink modified its neural recording algorithms to make them more sensitive and improved the way it translates neural signals into cursor movements.

According to Neuralink officials, Arbaugh has begun to use a computer with his brain, although only 15 percent of the implant’s threads are still working. In an interview with Wired, Arbaugh said the device has given him a sense of independence again.

Still, Neuralink is trying to avoid similar issues with its second study participant. “We really want to make sure that we make as much progress as possible between each Neuralink patient,” Musk said on Wednesday.

During the video update, company officials acknowledged that air had become trapped inside Arbaugh’s skull after the surgery, which could have caused the threads to come out. Matthew McDougall, Neuralink’s head of neurosurgery, said the company is taking steps to eliminate this air sac in its second volunteer. It also plans to insert the threads even deeper into brain tissue and track the movement of those threads.

“You might think that the most obvious mitigation for threads removed from the brain is to insert them deeper. We think so, too, and so we’re going to broaden the range of depths we can insert the threads,” McDougall said.

In addition, the company’s surgeons plan to “shape the surface of the skull” to reduce the gap under the implant so that it is level with the general shape of the skull. This will “minimize the gap under the implant” and “bring it closer to the brain and eliminate some of the stress on the threads,” McDougall said.

Musk said he expects Neuralink’s device to be implanted in “high single digits” of study participants this year. (Neuralink’s listing on ClinicalTrials.gov says the company plans to enroll three participants in its current study.)

He said Neuralink is working on a next-generation implant that has 128 threads, with each thread having eight electrodes, a change that he says would “potentially double the bandwidth if we’re precise about the position of the threads.” Musk did not give a timeline for when the device would be ready for testing in people.

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