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Brain implant malfunction hits Musk’s Neuralink

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Neuralink, Elon Musk’s ambitious brain-computer interface venture, has encountered some level of setback. The company revealed that its pioneering chip implanted into a human patient began malfunctioning just weeks after the groundbreaking surgery.

The company disclosed that some of the hair-thin electrode threads designed to interface with the patient’s brain cells started retracting from the brain tissue, causing a significant drop in the amount of neural data the device could transmit.

The malfunction occurred in the implant of 29-year-old Noland Arbaugh, who was paralyzed eight years ago in a diving accident. Arbaugh made history in January as the first person to receive the Neuralink chip, joining a six-year trial to test the device’s safety and efficacy.

Just last month, the company live-streamed video of Arbaugh using the brain implant to control a computer cursor and play video games simply by imagining the movements, in a striking demonstration of the technology’s potential.

However, the thread retraction issue meant Neuralink’s device suddenly had far fewer working electrodes to decode Arbaugh’s neural signals. This forced the company’s engineers to rapidly adjust their algorithms to recover some functionality.

In a blog post, Neuralink claimed its software fixes led to “a rapid and sustained improvement” allowing Arbaugh to regain and even exceed his initial cursor control abilities as measured by bits per second. But the incident underscores the immense technical challenges of developing a safe and reliable brain-computer interface.

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While downplaying the significance of the malfunction, Neuralink said it considered but decided against removing the implant from Arbaugh’s brain, concluding it did not pose a safety risk. The company aims to eventually use the technology to control robotic limbs and wheelchairs for severely disabled people.

The highly-anticipated brain implant trial continues, but this early setback illustrates the pioneering work remains in uncharted scientific territory dotted with potential obstacles. As Musk ventures further into the realm of human augmentation, the path ahead may be even more challenging than his engineers anticipated.

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When I'm not reading about tech, I'm writing about it, or thinking about the next weird food combinations to try. I do all these with my headphones plugged in, and a sticky note on my computer with the words: "The galaxy needs saving, Star Lord."
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