Musk claims Neuralink patient doing OK with implant, can move mouse with brain


A person's hand holidng a brain implant device that is about the size of a coin.
Enlarge / A Neuralink implant.

Neuralink

Neuralink co-founder Elon Musk said the first human to be implanted with the company’s brain chip is now able to move a mouse cursor just by thinking.

“Progress is good, and the patient seems to have made a full recovery, with no ill effects that we are aware of. Patient is able to move a mouse around the screen by just thinking,” Musk said Monday during an X Spaces event, according to Reuters.

Musk’s update came a few weeks after he announced that Neuralink implanted a chip into the human. The previous update was also made on X, the Musk-owned social network formerly named Twitter.

Musk reportedly said during yesterday’s chat, “We’re trying to get as many button presses as possible from thinking. So that’s what we’re currently working on is: can you get left mouse, right mouse, mouse down, mouse up… We want to have more than just two buttons.”

Neuralink itself doesn’t seem to have issued any statement on the patient’s progress. We contacted the company today and will update this article if we get a response.

“Basic ethical standards” not met

Neuralink’s method of releasing information was criticized last week by Arthur Caplan, a bioethics professor and head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, and Jonathan Moreno, a University of Pennsylvania medical ethics professor.

“Science by press release, while increasingly common, is not science,” Caplan and Moreno wrote in an essay published by the nonprofit Hastings Center. “When the person paying for a human experiment with a huge financial stake in the outcome is the sole source of information, basic ethical standards have not been met.”

Caplan and Moreno acknowledged that Neuralink and Musk seem to be “in the clear” legally:

Assuming that some brain-computer interface device was indeed implanted in some patient with severe paralysis by some surgeons somewhere, it would be reasonable to expect some formal reporting about the details of an unprecedented experiment involving a vulnerable person. But unlike drug studies in which there are phases that must be registered in a public database, the Food and Drug Administration does not require reporting of early feasibility studies of devices. From a legal standpoint Musk’s company is in the clear, a fact that surely did not escape the tactical notice of his company’s lawyers.

But they argue that opening “the brain of a living human being to insert a device” should have been accompanied with more public detail. There is an ethical obligation “to avoid the risk of giving false hope to countless thousands of people with serious neurological disabilities,” they wrote.

A brain implant could have complications that leave a patient in worse condition, the ethics professors noted. “We are not even told what plans there are to remove the device if things go wrong or the subject simply wants to stop,” Caplan and Moreno wrote. “Nor do we know the findings of animal research that justified beginning a first-in-human experiment at this time, especially since it is not lifesaving research.”

Clinical trial still to come

Neuralink has been criticized for alleged mistreatment of animals in research and was reportedly fined $2,480 for violating US Department of Transportation rules on the movement of hazardous materials after inspections of company facilities last year.

People “should continue to be skeptical of the safety and functionality of any device produced by Neuralink,” the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine said after last month’s announcement of the first implant.

“The Physicians Committee continues to urge Elon Musk and Neuralink to shift to developing a noninvasive brain-computer interface,” the group said. Researchers elsewhere have already made progress to improve patient health using such noninvasive methods, which do not come with the risk of surgical complications, infections, or additional operations to repair malfunctioning implants.

In May 2023, Neuralink said it obtained Food and Drug Administration approval for clinical trials. The company’s previous attempt to gain approval was reportedly denied by the FDA over safety concerns and other “deficiencies.”

In September, the company said it was recruiting volunteers, specifically people with quadriplegia due to cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Neuralink said the first human clinical trial for PRIME (Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface) will evaluate the safety of its implant and surgical robot, “and assess the initial functionality of our BCI [brain-computer interface] for enabling people with paralysis to control external devices with their thoughts.”



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