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Exclusive: Musk's Neuralink has faced issues with its tiny wires for years, sources say

Neuralink’s disclosure last week that tiny wires inside the brain of its first patient had pulled out of position is an issue the Elon Musk company has known about for years, according to five people familiar with the matter.

The company knew from animal testing it had conducted ahead of its U.S. approval last year that the wires might retract, removing with them the sensitive electrodes that decode brain signals, three of the sources said. Neuralink deemed the risk low enough for a redesign not to be merited, the sources added.

The company said last week that the implant’s tiny wires, which are thinner than a human hair, retracted from a patient’s brain in its first human trial, resulting in fewer electrodes that could measure brain signals.

RagingSnarkasm ,

These patients need to just come to terms with needing to go Super-Duper HARD-CORE Mode ™ and realize that Neuralink is here to Move Fast And Break Things ™ – like your brain.

/s (for the sarcasm-impaired)

FlyingSquid , avatar

I understand that paralyzed people are desperate to be able to move again, or at least control things that will move for them, but trusting Neuralink to do it right just seemed like a bad plan the first time they announced human trials. Just don’t do it. The initial patient is lucky they’re not dead.

iAmTheTot , avatar

This feels borderline victim blame-y.

FlyingSquid , avatar

Not at all. A warning.

BakerBagel ,

It’s not victim blaming, it’s calling out Musk for taking advantage of vulnerable people. There is a rigorous (and expensive) process to testing new medical devices because of the potential to do serious harm . Musk is trying to save time and money by yeating a product he knows is flawed on people desperate to change their circumstances.

aStonedSanta ,

I don’t see how. They aren’t blaming the victim for anything. Just noting the desperation overtaking logic isn’t a good thing around ol Musk.

FlowVoid , (edited )

Implanted human brain-computer interfaces have been around since the 70s. And nowadays Parkinson’s patients routinely get stimulating electrodes implanted in far deeper (ie riskier) brain structures than Neuralink’s surface electrodes.

While I certainly don’t buy Musk’s hype regarding this technology, I also see no reason to believe that Neuralink will be significantly more dangerous than what we already have.

FlyingSquid , avatar

The warning signs were there. You should read about their animal trials. If you have a strong stomach.

Tar_alcaran ,

Or, you know, read literally anything about Musk

TheBest ,

I don’t mean to backseat engineer, but ensuring your BRAIN INTERFACE DEVICE succsessfully connects seems pretty fucking vital and worth of a redesign. Even if its expensive. Even if the probability is low, it needs to be virtually zero.

Its hard to take a step back and view this as regular product development that has timelines and such strictly due to the nature of the product. This is almost literally the most invasive a product can be, you better fucking nail your execution.

The people that actually would benefit from this technology deserve better.

ObviouslyNotBanana , avatar

Agreed. Seems like the actual connection is, like, 90% of the product if not more.

Coasting0942 ,

you better fucking nail your execution

Musk: it seems the public isn’t so against our proposal to extend the testing pool to death row inmates.

FlyingSquid , avatar

I believe Musk’s reply would be, “concerning.”

HopeOfTheGunblade , avatar

You have said the actual truth.

Granite ,

“Go fast and break things people.”

OpenStars , avatar

Profits > anything else

FlowVoid ,

It depends on how many of the electrodes are affected.

For instance, your phone screen is probably expected to develop dead pixels over time, but there is a big difference between expecting a handful of pixels to stop working and expecting half of them to stop working. The former has virtually no effect, whereas the latter makes the phone unusable.

Likewise, the most important question for a brain interface is not “Are all the sensors working?”, it’s “Is the patient experiencing reduced performance?”

ZapBeebz_ ,

Also the timeline that’s expected to happen on. I’d be pretty fucking mad if my phone had dead pixels less than 6 months after buying it. 10 years, not so much.

Likewise, I’d be pretty mad that if a reportable amount of my brain electrodes detached within the first 6 months of having them, but I’d be less mad if it was a few years down the line (not that I’d ever be fully okay with it. This is my brain, after all).

FlowVoid , (edited )

I’d be pretty fucking mad if my phone had dead pixels less than 6 months

That’s because screens are a mature technology. Twenty years ago, you expected one or two dead pixels in every brand new screen.

Here’s an example of a replacement policy from those dark ages:

The LCD display of products under warranty will be replaced if CTL determines that it has 6 or more bright sub-pixels, 6 or more dark sub-pixels or a combination of 6 or more bright and dark sub pixels.

ZapBeebz_ ,

It’s a lot easier to warranty a phone screen than it is brain surgery. That’s why that expectation was acceptable for screens.

FlowVoid ,

By the same token, medical devices have more built-in redundancies in case of partial failure. That’s why the overall impact on the patient is more important than how many electrodes are operational.

ZapBeebz_ ,

I will admit, I think I’m coming from a place of zero trust that anything musk has his hands in has any amount of safety or redundancy built in, because that might hurt the bottom line

FlowVoid ,

Pretty much every medical device is made by people who are equally interested in the bottom line, they just aren’t constantly in the media spotlight like Musk.

Fortunately there are government agencies that closely watch these companies to make sure patient safety comes first.


capitalism should stay the fuck away from peoples bodies, let alone the inside of their skulls

exanime ,

The people that actually would benefit from this technology deserve better.

100% correct. The issue is that this is not the goal of those developing this technology, the goal is (checks notes), money… All they care about is money and if some disabled people suffer some more, well, that’s the price they are willing to pay to get richer

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