China Debuts Rival to Elon Musk’s Neuralink Brain Chip

brain chip China
CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Chinese state media on Tuesday touted the emergence of a Chinese-made rival to Elon Musk’s Neuralink technology, a chip implanted in the brain that allows humans to directly interface with electronics.

Although China’s Global Times breathlessly hyped the Chinese Institute for Brain Research’s “Neucyber” chip as “China’s version of Neuralink,” the product on display at a laboratory in Beijing is far behind Neuralink, having not yet been implanted in a human host.

Global Times reporters were treated to a “magical scene” in which a monkey with a Neucyber chip made brainwave signals wobble on a computer monitor.

The Neucyber Array BMI System, a self-developed brain-machine interface BMI system from China, at the opening ceremony of the 2024 Zhongguancun Forum in Beijing, China on, April 25, 2024. (Xinhua via Getty Images)

The project directors said the chip has been implanted in the monkey’s skull for almost a year and is “still able to collect high-quality signals.” The next step is designing an algorithm to decode the brainwaves, which would allow the monkey to control a robot arm. If that goes well, researchers hope to begin human trials within a year.

The Global Times reported:

The advanced algorithm is a step forward to achieve the goal of creating neurally controlled prosthetics that are more human-like, natural and flexible for patients in the future. The team revealed that researchers are about to publish academic papers on the advanced algorithm powered Neucyber.

China was clearly fascinated by Neuralink after Musk announced the first brain-computer interface (BCI) in January. Within a month, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology published “ethical guidelines” to allow “clinical trials of innovative BCI products.”

As with everything else the Chinese Communist Party does, these “ethical guidelines” were riddled with escape clauses and exceptions, essentially giving Chinese scientists carte blanche to do whatever it takes to catch up to Western scientists.

The most grimly amusing line in China’s ethical guidelines stipulated that cybernetics that interfere with human judgment or compromise “human autonomy and self-awareness” should be avoided — unless they are “fully proven to be superior to human capabilities.”

The Global Times was confident that China would be able to assemble “superior resources” to catch up and eventually take the lead in BCI, proudly noting that Neucyber was developed in less than a year. BCI has been identified as a vital “cutting-edge emerging technology” by the communist regime.

“Industry observers believe that since the BCI technology has not yet been widely used as medical devices globally, China still has the chance to industrialize its BCI products before the U.S.,” the Global Times said.

CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images

The Neuralink project has suffered some major setbacks. Functionality of the BCI implant in the original patient, 30-year-old quadriplegic Noland Arbaugh, has degraded by almost 85 percent after the first hundred days, as many of its hair-thin electrode threads have apparently been rejected by his brain tissue.

Neuralink is nevertheless pushing for a second human trial with an implant deeper in the brain, and Arbaugh remains an enthusiastic believer in the technology, which allowed him to mentally interface with computer systems well enough to play video games before his implant began to degrade. He actually set a world record for precise control of a computer cursor, which should be of interest to Chinese medical ethicists who believe restraints on research should be lifted if BCI proves “superior to human capabilities.”

Arbaugh retains a much more limited ability to interface with computers and has indicated he wants another surgery to repair or replace his implant, although Neuralink doctors recommended against it.


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