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Brain computer chip from Neuralink in a presentation in August 2020

Photo: Neuralink / AFP

In January, Elon Musk's startup Neuralink inserted a wireless computer chip into a human's brain for the first time. According to Musk, the patient should now be able to control a computer mouse using his thoughts. “The progress is good, the patient seems to have recovered completely, with no side effects known to us,” said the entrepreneur in a live audio conversation on his online service X.

The patient was even “able to control the mouse, moving it on the screen using only his thoughts,” Musk assured. We are currently working with the patient to move the cursor specifically to the left and right, up and down, using the power of his thoughts. After all, this is necessary “if you want to click on something and move it to another location.” The information cannot be independently verified.

The Neuralink implants are about the size of five coins stacked on top of each other. In the future, they will help people with neurological diseases such as Parkinson's or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to regain mobility. They could also enable a direct connection between the brain and computers and artificial intelligence, thereby increasing human abilities.

For test purposes, the implant had already been inserted into a macaque, which was able to play the video game “Pong” without a joystick, mouse or keyboard.

Neuralink, based in Fremont, California, was founded in 2016. According to data service provider Pitchbook, it had more than 400 employees in 2023. In August and November last year, the company collected $323 million, around 298 million euros, in two tranches for its projects.

Synchron attached a chip to a patient's brain for the first time in 2022

However, Musk's start-up is not the only company working on brain-computer interfaces. In 2019, the Clinatec research institute in Grenoble, France, presented an implant that is intended to be implanted in paraplegics so that they can control an exoskeleton, move their arms again or move around.

In July 2022, the Australian company Synchron also announced that it had attached a chip to the brain of a patient for the first time. Unlike Neuralink, the synchronous implant is connected to the brain from the outside, so that the patient's skull does not have to be opened.

The Dutch company Onward announced in September that it wanted to combine a brain implant with an implant that stimulates the spinal cord. In this way, people with paralyzed arms and legs can become mobile again.