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You’ve probably heard about Neuralink – Elon Musk’s venture to basically link people’s brains to computers so that we can talk with machines more efficiently. But Neuralink isn’t alone in the brain-computer interface (BCI) field. Just earlier this month, a Brooklyn startup called Synchron was able to put an implant into the blood vessel of an ALS patient’s brain to hopefully help them communicate with computers.
Don’t get your hopes up yet. This is still a new and experimental technology, but so far, it’s looking pretty promising. ALS causes the patient to be unable to move or speak, and this implant is supposed to let them do things like send WhatsApp messages and communicate by email or do online shopping through a connected computer – simply by thinking. Talk about hands-free technology.
So far, four patients in Australia have also gotten this implant, and it’s helped them do those exact things without side effects. This is the first implant of the kind in a US patient, beating out Musk’s Neuralink, which hasn’t been approved for a similar trial yet by the FDA.
This is a big deal in part because of how noninvasive it is. For one, the procedure isn’t much different than installing a pacemaker. This means that, down the road, doctors all over the world could learn how to do this sort of operation without a bunch of specialized training. The other great thing is that it’s usable at home in a way other BCIs haven’t been.
So, we’re not quite at Musk’s “control computers with your brain" dream, but we’re getting a little bit closer, and the hope is that tech like this will give people with severe disabilities a bit more autonomy in their daily lives.
“I feel like we are at the beginning of a renaissance around brain decoding," said Synchron’s co-founder and CEO Dr. Tom Oxley.