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Doctors Concerned About Neuralink's First Patient

Neuralink founder Elon Musk claimed this week that the first human to receive one of his company's heavily scrutinized brain implants was already able to control a mouse cursor with their mind.

The only problem? Since then, Neuralink hasn't shared any evidence supporting that claim — and medical researchers are starting to call its bluff.

As shared in a new writeup for Nature, not only is this is hardly a new innovation, but we're not getting enough information from Neuralink to verify its claims, or more distressingly, to assess the safety of its practices.

"[Neuralink is] only sharing the bits that they want us to know about," Sameer Sheth, a neurosurgeon who specializes in implanted neurotechnology at the Baylor College of Medicine, told Nature. "There's a lot of concern in the community about that."

Musk claimed on X-formerly-Twitter last month that the human patient who received the brain implant was "recovering well." But as anyone who's been following Neuralink can tell you, there's good reason to be worried about what's happening behind the scenes.

Overshadowing the company's purported achievements are grisly revelations made about its treatment of monkeys. Leaked documents detailed how the implants resulted in a myriad of grotesque injuries, including rupturing a monkey's brain and causing severe cerebral swelling. In many cases, the monkeys spent the final days of their life in needless agony that experts say could've been prevented.

Echoing those safety concerns, Sheth told Nature that researchers are still in the dark on the capabilities of Neuralink's robotic surgeon. So far, he notes, we've only seen footage of it "operating" on a dummy, which was over a year ago. In fact, it still hasn't been confirmed if the robotic surgeon was used on the human patient.

A relevant detail that raises questions about Neuralink's surgical capabilities is another report of a monkey with a botched brain implant. According to an autopsy, the monkey had to be euthanized after the device became so loose that the screws attaching it to the skull "could easily be lifted out."

Those tests happened several years ago, so for the patient's sake we can hope that Neuralink has gotten safer with its practices since then. Based on the scant details so far, though, it's also not clear that Neuralink has accomplished anything groundbreaking.

"A human controlling a cursor is nothing new," Bolu Ajiboye, a brain computer interface researcher at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature. He notes that the first human to control a cursor with a brain implant was in 2004, and that tests have demonstrated this in monkeys for even longer.

Meanwhile, other brain implant projects have allowed fully paralyzed patients to communicate through a digital avatar using only their mind, or to control life-changing robotic prosthetics.

Still, Ajiboye isn't ready to count Neuralink out yet.

"The more companies involved in human BCIs," he told Nature, "the better to push the field forward."

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