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Musk’s Brain-Machine Company’s First Human Test Subject’s Brain Device Malfunctions

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The path to Musk’s “symbiosis of man and machine” is not without its challenges, as his brain-machine company has reported hardware issues with the devices implanted in the first human trial participant.

On May 8th local time, Neuralink stated in a blog post that in the weeks following the surgery on patient Nolan Abel in January, some of the connections embedded in the brain tissue became detached, affecting the rate of information transfer and causing the loss of some data, rendering the device unable to function properly.

Neuralink indicated that the detachment of connections led to a decrease in the number of bits per second, which is a measure of Abel’s speed and accuracy in controlling a computer cursor solely with his thoughts.

Neuralink stated that the electrode array issues were addressed through modifications to recording algorithms to make them more sensitive to neural cluster signals and improvements in the technology converting signals into cursor movements, resulting in “rapid and sustained improvements that have now surpassed the initial performance of Nolan’s (implanted device).”

According to Latest, one factor in Neuralink’s research could be that air entered Abel’s skull after the implant surgery, a condition referred to as intracranial pneumocephalus. This issue doesn’t seem to pose a threat to Abel’s safety. However, researchers are considering the possibility of removing Abel’s intracranial device despite this.

For Neuralink, which is seeking to conduct broader clinical trials, any malfunctions could lead to delays in the approval process by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Earlier in March, Neuralink had announced Abel’s implant progress, stating that the quadriplegic man was able to play games and online chess solely through thought. Musk had also mentioned at that time that Abel was recovering well and “seems to have fully recovered without any adverse reactions that we’re aware of.”

The core of brain-machine interface technology is a novel communication and control technique established between the brain of a human or animal and a computer or other electronic device, independent of conventional brain output pathways (peripheral nerves and muscle tissue). According to the communication technology path, the technology mainly falls into three categories: “non-invasive (extracranial),” “invasive,” and “semi-invasive.”

Neuralink employs an invasive approach, directly implanting electrodes into the cerebral cortex through surgery to obtain high-quality neural signals. The N1 implant currently used by the company records neural activity through 1024 electrodes distributed on 64 threads, with highly flexible ultra-fine electrode wires being crucial in minimizing damage during and after implantation.

Neuralink stated that it is currently focused on improving text input and cursor control for brain-machine devices, with the ultimate goal of expanding into the physical world to control prosthetic limbs, wheelchairs, and other technologies to enhance the independence of quadriplegic patients.

Musk has previously claimed on multiple occasions that implantable brain-machine interface devices can enable paralyzed individuals to walk again, provide sight to the blind, and achieve “symbiosis of man and machine.”

Founded in 2016, Neuralink’s primary research direction is brain-machine interfaces, aiming to achieve “interaction between the human brain and machines” by developing devices that can be implanted in the brain. The company has received multiple rounds of funding since its inception, with reports from foreign media indicating that as early as June 2023, Neuralink’s valuation had exceeded $5 billion. In a previous round of private funding two years ago, Neuralink was valued at nearly $2 billion, with $205 million raised.

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