1st Neuralink User Describes The Highs And Lows Of Living With Elon Musk’s Brain Chip

Noland Arbaugh, the first user of Neuralink’s brain-computer interface (BCI), describes the experience as both revolutionary and challenging. After a 2016 swimming accident left him paralyzed below the middle of his neck, Arbaugh underwent surgery in January to receive Neuralink’s N1 Implant. Despite the presence of a computer chip embedded in his skull and electrodes in his brain, Arbaugh says, “I have no sensation of it—no way of telling it’s there unless someone goes and physically pushes on it.”

The implant has allowed Arbaugh to “reconnect with the world,” significantly enhancing his independence and interaction with technology. Within a week post-surgery, Arbaugh could move a digital cursor by simply willing his hand to move or imagining the cursor’s path. This intuitive control has enabled him to browse the web, send texts, scroll social media, and even play video games with remarkable ease.

However, the journey hasn’t been without hurdles. In February, Arbaugh experienced a major setback when 85% of the implant threads retracted, nearly halting its functionality. Neuralink addressed the issue by tweaking the system’s algorithm, restoring much of the implant’s capabilities. Despite these challenges, Arbaugh remains optimistic, viewing his participation as crucial for advancing the technology to help others.

Neuralink, owned by Elon Musk, has brought significant attention to BCIs, which have been around for decades. The company’s implant, with 64 superfine threads containing 1,024 electrodes, captures neural activity with high precision, transmitting data via Bluetooth. This level of innovation, condensing multiple advances into a single wireless device, sets Neuralink apart from existing technologies.

The FDA has approved Neuralink to continue its clinical trials, with plans to implant the device deeper to prevent issues like thread retraction. Arbaugh is hopeful that his contributions will pave the way for more robust and reliable BCI technologies, potentially restoring movement or sight to those with severe disabilities. “I try to keep my expectations grounded,” he says, “but the ground seems to be shifting rapidly in the BCI field.”

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