Elon Musk's announcement that his company, Neuralink, has successfully implanted a wireless microchip into a human brain has made headline news, as matters often do that involve the entrepreneur. As previously demonstrated with his focus on autonomous vehicles and space exploration, he’s once again grabbed the news agenda with ideas that previously would have seemed to be straight out of science fiction. With typical panache, he announced the first product would be called Telepathy.

But, in fact, brain implant technology has been pursued for decades. In his announcement, Musk talked up the technology's potential in patients with serious neurocognitive issues. However, clearly the possible uses are far wider. And it is in the field of amputees which this article takes a look. 

We previously wrote about the development of a neural probe with the possibility of improving control of prosthetics. That research, undertaken by Stanford University, differed from Musk’s in that it avoided invasive surgery. However, that technology has only been tested in rats; whereas Neuralink is ahead of the competition with the first human implant. 

The opportunities linked to bionics could bring about genuinely usable limbs, an incredible and life-changing advancement for those suffering upper limb loss. But real-life function is critical. While laboratory tests can often garner hugely impressive results, translating that into real life utility is commonly the challenge. In the catastrophic injury claims field, claimants and insurers have too often seen the latest piece of technology, with expensive purchase costs, heralded as a game changer for those with injuries of the utmost severity, only for its drawbacks to ultimately leave it gathering dust in a claimant's home. This writer recalls in one spinal injury case an exoskeleton was being used as a clothes horse! 

Limitations as to use will not likely be the only issue. The surgery to implant the chip will carry obvious risks. With a severe neurocognitive patient, the balance of risk and reward will be more obvious even for the direst of consequences, but not necessarily so with an amputee. If repeat surgeries are required to fix issues, that can really take its toll physically, psychology and emotionally on a patient. Claimants will likely carefully weigh their decision. The question for an insurer if included as a future loss in a schedule will be whether the claimant will actually want to go through with the procedure. 

Of course, technology will advance, and the potential problems will become reduced over time. It cannot be predicted with certainty how long that will take; the adage that we tend to overpredict progress of two years, but underpredict ten years, is apt. But with several corporations pressing on, and with the fearless Musk behind one, brain chip controlled bionic arms might be featuring in claims sooner than you think. Stranger things have happened.