What is Blackrock Neurotech? The rival to Elon Musk’s Neuralink brain chip

Elon Musk says his start-up firm Neuralink has successfully implanted a computer chip into a human’s brain for the first time.

The billionaire said the patient was “recovering well”.

Neuralink aims to give those with paralysis the ability to control their devices, including their smartphone, using just their thoughts. It is currently being trialled to test the functionality of its interface and the surgical robot used to implant the chips.

The Tesla and SpaceX boss said the company’s first product was called Telepathy.

He added: “Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer. That is the goal.”

Neuralink is not the only company breaking new boundaries in neurotechnology, however. Blackrock Neurotech, Mr Musk’s main competitor, began implanting brain-computer interfaces in 2004.

What is Blackrock Neurotech?

Blackrock Neurotech is a leading developer of neural implants, known for its advanced brain-computer interfaces.

The company states that it wants the millions of people afflicted with paralysis and other neurological disorders to walk, talk, hear, see, and feel again.

Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Blackrock Neurotech boasts some of the world’s “leading engineers and neuroscientists, and visionaries”.

In an interview with the Daily Mail in 2023, Marcus Gerhardt, Blackrock’s co-founder, said that the company was pursuing regulatory approval of MoveAgain, the world’s first brain computer interface (BCI) specifically for at-home use.

He said: “This medical device aims to increase independence and mobility, and ultimately, quality of life, for people with paralysis.

“Once home-use BCIs are available, they’ll help people build new lives that may have seemed impossible following their disability; we think we’ll see people return to work, establish greater independence, and engage with the world in powerful new ways.

“Our long-term vision is that our implants will become as readily available to people with paralysis as pacemakers are for people with heart issues.”

But their work is far from confined to physical conditions. “As the technology continues to advance, we’ll see BCIs with indications for memory and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression,” he added.

In a statement on its website, the company states that Blackrock’s BCIs have “an impeccable safety record”.

Blackrock Neurotech is not owned by or affiliated with BlackRock Investments.

Has Blackrock Neurotech implanted brain chips in people?

Yes. It has implanted more than 50 chips into people’s brains.

What are the company’s goals?

Blackrock Neurotech states that its mission is simple. “We want people with neurological disorders to walk, talk, see, hear, and feel again.

“We’re engineering the next generation of neural implants, including implantable brain-computer interface technology that restores function and independence to individuals with neurological disorders.”

Will the chips be available in the UK?

It’s possible, although UK regulators have warned that emerging neurotechnology poses a “major risk of being biased if not developed and used correctly”, with neurodivergent people “particularly at risk”.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is developing guidance for developers of neurotechnologies.

Stephen Almond, executive director of regulatory risk at the ICO, said: “Neurotechnology collects intimate personal information that people are often not aware of, including emotions and complex behaviour. The consequences could be dire if these technologies are developed or deployed inappropriately.

“We will be keeping a watchful eye on the development of this market to make sure that the risks that we highlight in this report are being acted on and mitigated.”