Neuralink implant

If one was to just listen to Elon Musk, they might think the first Neuralink implant in a human was a flawless achievement.

“Successful 100 days with first human implant of @Neuralink,” Musk posted to his social media platform X on Wednesday.

It is fair to call Neuralink’s first human implant a success – certainly more successful than some of the test animals that Neuralink had implanted the device in – as it helped a quadriplegic patient interact with his surroundings in ways that he previously couldn’t before. 

But, this success certainly wasn’t without at least one major bump in the road. And, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal, it appears that Musk and company may have only divulged these problems to the public due to the outlet inquiring about the issue.

Neuralink’s implant problem

Neuralink’s report, which the Wall Street Journal said was published only after they had reached out to the company, looks at the first 100 days of the brain implant in the company’s first test subject, 29-year-old Nolan Arbaugh who was paralyzed from the shoulders down after an accident nearly a decade ago.

Neuralink had previously shown a demonstration of Arbaugh playing Chess and video games like Mario Kart and controlling a mouse with his mind, all thanks to Neuralink’s brain implant.

However, until this report on Wednesday, the public had not been informed of a problem that resulted in Neuralink even considering removing the implant. Some of the implant’s “threads” placed in Arbaugh’s brain had come out resulting in data loss.

The Neuralink microchip, which is implanted in the patient’s brain, contains 1,024 electrodes across 64 electrode threads or thin film material. These threads are thinner than a strand of hair and can basically transmit signals to the brain’s neural network.

While Arbaugh’s health was never in any danger, the issue led to a “reduction in bits-per-second” or how fast and accurate Arbaugh was able to control his computer with his brain.

Neuralink’s own report on its 100 successful days after the implant doesn’t spend too much time on the details. It’s all wrapped up in a single, four-sentence paragraph.

“In the weeks following the surgery, a number of threads retracted from the brain, resulting in a net decrease in the number of effective electrodes,” Neuralink writes in its post. “This led to a reduction in BPS. In response to this change, we modified the recording algorithm to be more sensitive to neural population signals, improved the techniques to translate these signals into cursor movements, and enhanced the user interface. These refinements produced a rapid and sustained improvement in BPS, that has now superseded Noland’s initial performance.”

According to the Wall Street Journal report, Neuralink is working on the issue so that it hopefully does not happen in future implants. The belief is that the threads retracted due to “pneumocephalus,” a condition where air became trapped inside Arbaugh’s skull after his implant surgery. This caused some of the threads to become disconnected.

Again, obviously things could have gone a lot worse and the Neuralink’s first implant thus far can be considered a successful endeavor. However, based on the company’s alleged history of concealing information, including the reports of monkey deaths related to Neuralink implants, it’s crucial that both the positive and negative aspects are transparently disclosed.

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