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Musk claims his Neuralink brain chip could ‘cure’ tinnitus — but don’t hold your breath

The human brain is said to be the most complex biological structure ever to have existed. And while science doesn’t fully understand the brain yet, researchers in the expanding field of neuroscience have been making progress.

Neuroscientists have made substantial inroads toward mapping the complex functions of the brain’s 85 billion or so neurons and the 100 trillion connections between them. (To put this astronomical number into perspective, there are upwards of 400 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy.)

Enter Neuralink, a Silicon Valley start-up backed by Elon Musk that has developed a neuroprosthetic device known as a brain-computer interface. Among other things, Musk claims this chip could cure tinnitus, the neurological condition that causes ringing in your ears, within five years. But is this possible?

What is Neuralink?

The coin-sized Neuralink device, called a Link, is implanted flush with the skull by a precision surgical robot. The robot connects a thousand miniature threads from the Link to certain neurons. Each thread is a quarter the diameter of a human hair.

The device connects to an external computer by Bluetooth for continuous communication back and forth.

In the future, Neuralink prostheses might help people with various kinds of neurological disorders where there is a disconnect or malfunction between the brain and the nerves that serve the body. That includes people with paraplegia, quadriplegia, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy.

Since its establishment in 2016, Neuralink has been recruiting top-class neuroscientists from academia and the broader research community to develop the technology to treat these conditions.

Neuralink’s monkey can play Pong with his mind

In April 2021, the company released a remarkable proof-of-concept video. It showed a nine-year-old macaque monkey called Pager successfully playing a game of Pong with his mind, by having an implanted Neuralink device connected to a computer running the game.