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Neuralink Commences Enrollment for First Human Brain-Computer Interface Implants

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Brain-Computer Interface

In a noteworthy development, Neuralink, the brainchild of tech mogul Elon Musk, has officially commenced enrollment for its inaugural human study involving the groundbreaking N1 Brain-Computer Interface (BCI). This endeavor, known as the Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface, or PRIME for short (distinct from PRIBCI), was unveiled on Tuesday. The announcement arrives almost a year subsequent to Neuralink’s latest public presentation event, which occurred four months later than Musk’s initial projection for trial initiation. Interestingly, rival company Synchron had already introduced their own BCI to the market almost a month prior to Neuralink’s announcement.

According to Neuralink’s official statement, the PRIME study’s primary objectives are twofold: first, to assess the safety and efficacy of their N1 implant and R1 surgical robot, and second, to evaluate the initial functionality of their BCI in enabling individuals with paralysis to control external devices using their thoughts. Specifically, the study is targeting individuals with quadriplegia resulting from cervical spinal cord injuries or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This marks a significant deviation from Musk’s occasional and somewhat fantastical claims about the technology, such as acquiring Kung Fu skills from an SD card or uploading one’s consciousness to the internet to control household electronics with the power of thought.

Surprisingly, though, the notion of controlling household electronics using the mind is indeed a genuine aim of both Neuralink as a company and the technology itself. BCIs function as a bridge between the human brain and machines, converting the analog electrical signals generated by our brains into digital signals comprehensible to machines. Neuralink’s N1 system employs an intricate Utah Array comprised of hair-thin probes. Unlike Synchron’s Stentrode, which can be implanted less invasively, the N1 requires installation through robotic keyhole surgery, a task deftly executed by Neuralink’s R1 robot surgeon, likened to a sewing machine. Once in place on the patient’s motor cortex, the array records and wirelessly transmits electrical impulses from that region to a corresponding app, which interprets these signals into actionable commands for the computer. The official release states that the initial objective of the BCI is to bestow upon individuals the ability to control a computer cursor or keyboard using only the power of their thoughts.

Neuralink embarked on the development of the N1 system back in 2017, positioning itself as one of the pioneering companies publicly committed to commercial BCI development. However, the company faced setbacks last year, following credible accusations of causing unnecessary suffering and the death of numerous animal test subjects. This led to a USDA investigation on animal cruelty charges and resulted in the FDA denying Neuralink’s request to expedite human trials. The PRIME study is currently being conducted under the umbrella of the investigational device exemption (IDE), an authorization granted to Neuralink by the FDA in May of this year.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Brain-Computer Interface

What is Neuralink’s PRIME study?

Neuralink’s PRIME study is a research endeavor aimed at evaluating the safety and functionality of their N1 Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) implants in humans. It focuses on enabling people with quadriplegia due to cervical spinal cord injuries or ALS to control external devices using their thoughts.

How does Neuralink’s N1 system work?

The N1 system utilizes a high-fidelity Utah Array with hair-thin probes. These probes are surgically implanted onto the patient’s motor cortex. They record electrical impulses from this region and wirelessly transmit them to an associated app, which translates these signals into commands for computers or other devices.

What sets Neuralink’s BCI apart from competitors like Synchron?

Neuralink’s BCI distinguishes itself by its surgical approach, involving robotic keyhole surgery performed by the R1 robot surgeon. This differs from competitors like Synchron, which offer less invasive implantation methods. Neuralink’s technology prioritizes precision and high-fidelity data capture.

Why was there a delay in the PRIME study’s launch?

The PRIME study experienced delays compared to the initially projected timeline, partly due to Neuralink’s previous challenges. The company faced allegations of animal cruelty and the subsequent need for investigations, leading to FDA scrutiny. The study was conducted under the investigational device exemption (IDE) granted by the FDA in May.

Are Neuralink’s ambitions limited to medical applications?

No, Neuralink’s ambitions extend beyond medical applications. While the initial focus is on assisting individuals with paralysis, Elon Musk and Neuralink have expressed broader goals, including using BCIs for more futuristic applications like acquiring new skills or controlling everyday electronics with thoughts.

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