Neuralink Reports Data Problem in First Human Brain Implant

Elon Musk, billionaire and chief executive officer of Tesla, at the Viva Tech fair in Paris, France, on Friday, June 16, 2023. Musk predicted his Neuralink Corp. would carry out its first brain implant later this year. Photographer: Nathan Laine/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Elon Musk’s Neuralink startup on Wednesday said its first human implant experienced a data loss malfunction that has now been resolved.

The problem was the result of a number of implanted threads retracting from the brain, causing a loss of data due to a decrease in effective electrodes, the company said in blog post.

Neuralink said it then modified the recording algorithm to be more sensitive to neural population signals, improved the techniques that translate the signals into cursor movements and enhanced the user interface.

The improved network now exceeds the patient’s initial performance, according to the company.

Neuralink’s brain-computer interface, which it calls “the Link,” uses 1,024 electrodes across 64 threads that are thinner than a human hair to record neural signals.

Noland Arbaugh, 29, became the first human patient to receive the Neuralink implant in January.

Arbaugh, who was paralyzed by an accident in 2016, had been able to do a variety of digital tasks with his augmented brain, including browsing the internet on his computer and playing video games such as Chess, Civilization VI, and Mario Kart 8 on the Nintendo Switch.

Neuralink did not disclose how many threads had retracted from Arbaugh’s brain, but it said the threads do not pose a risk to Arbaugh’s health.

Arbaugh has been using the Link for up to eight hours a day for research sessions on weekdays and for over 10 hours per day on the weekends, according to Neuralink.

Neuralink quoted Arbaugh saying the Link “has helped me reconnect with the world, my friends and my family. It’s given me the ability to do things on my own again without needing my family at all hours of the day and night.”

The company said it intends to expand Arbaugh’s abilities to be able to control robotic arms, wheelchairs, and other devices with just his brain.

Neuralink’s successful human test was the first good news the company received after it was slapped with fines for transporting hazardous materials and animal rights activists accused the company of torturing monkeys in pre-human trials.

Co-founder Dr. Benjamin Rapoport had said he left Neuralink due to safety concerns and that the method of installing the implant leads to brain damage.

Neuralink still has to overcome a mountain of safety and efficacy tests before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will clear it for commercial use.

Neuralink has been working on a brain-computer interface since 2017. The FDA in 2023 cleared the company to begin human testing.

Musk in February announced to shareholders that he was moving Neuralink from Delaware to Nevada after a Delaware judge ruled in favor of a Tesla shareholder who challenged Musk’s $55.8 billion pay package.

The shareholder accused Musk of controlling Tesla’s board of directors and dictating the terms of the pay package, which included performance incentives.

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