Neuralink’s First Brain Implant Patient Opens Up About His Experience: How It Started, How It’s Going, And What Could Be Next

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Back in March 2024, Elon Musk shared a video of the first Neuralink patient, Noland Arbaugh, a 30-year-old quadriplegic. In the video, we saw how Arbaugh could use his brain to control the cursor on a MacBook’s screen, allowing him to interact with media controls and play video games like chess. The Neuralink chip in his brain detects the electrical signals produced by the brain when he thinks of moving the cursor, processes them, and relays them to a nearby Bluetooth device.

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Challenges Arbaugh Faced Before Getting The Neuralink Implant

Most recently, Arbaugh appeared for an interview with Wiredwhere he talked about the challenges he faced before getting the implant, how his life has changed in the last year, and what he expects from Neuralink in the future. Prior to getting the Telepathy chip implanted in his brain, Arbaugh “was lying in bed most days, all day.” However, he was trying to learn different languages to keep himself busy.

As he learned about Neuralink and the man behind the company, Elon Musk, Arbaugh was “blown away” by what the company was trying to do. “You just don’t see this kind of funding go into things for handicapped people.” The 30-year-old also speaks about the screening process for receiving the Neuralink brain implant, saying it took about a month.

It Took About A Month To Clear The Neuralink Screening Process

Although he received a reply within a day of applying to the program, he had to participate in several Zoom calls afterward. Finally, Arbaugh appeared for a full day of tests and checkups at the designated hospital. He also discusses keeping his expectations “really level,” as the company would have moved in a different direction had he not met every criterion they had set. When Wired asked about any concerns or fears about the brain surgery, Arbaugh answered candidly. 

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All I really have in my brain. So letting someone go in there and mess around, it’s a big commitment,” says Noland. He also had some reservations about going in as the first person to receive the implant. However, with complete faith in the company, Noland opted for the process. As he woke up right after the surgery, he saw the real-time signals that the chip was picking up from his brain on a screen. “Every time I moved my index finger, there was a big yellow spike.

How Did Calibration And Body Mapping Help Arbaugh Visualize Movements On A Screen?

After doing calibration and body mapping, Arbaugh was given the cursor control for the first time, and he felt it was very intuitive. For body mapping, Arbaugh has to visualize different actions, such as a hand moving on the screen, pushing his hand forward, pulling it backward, and so on. “We would do the action during body mapping, and they said that same action will be how you control the cursor.” 

The team also experimented with finger presses, asking him to push down each finger 10 times. Then, they moved ahead with the one that got the best signal. Given his neck-down paralysis, Arbaught can’t move his body the way he wants it to. However, the electrical impulse to do so (when he thinks about it) is still happening in his brain, which is what the Neuralink chip picks up and converts into the movement of the cursor on a screen.

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Did Anything Go Wrong In The Initial Days?

Per an official blog post published by Neuralink, some of the implant’s threads lined with electrodes retracted from the brain, resulting in poor signal reception. “I could tell right away that something was wrong. I just started losing control of the cursor,” says Arbaugh in his interview with Wired. The incident happened about three weeks after the implant. 

Even though something like this happened in one of the animal trials (with a monkey), the company didn’t anticipate that something like this could happen in the human trials. However, Neuralink modified the recording algorithm to be more sensitive to the “neural population signals,” which improved things over a course of two weeks. Nonetheless, Arbaugh says that the threads seem to be stabilized, and they might not pull out again. 

Arbaugh Wishes To Control A Tesla Optimus Robot With His Brain

In the future, Arbaugh would like to control a Tesla Optimus robot that could do “basically everything” for him, acting as a caretaker. Further, he wishes to connect his chip’s abilities to a car, such as the self-driving Tesla, and get around with ease. Speaking about the next revolution for BCIs, Arbaugh touched on the possibility of inserting knowledge into the brain, which isn’t possible now. 

Last Friday, Elon Musk’s Neuralink started accepting applications for its second human trial. On this Arbaugh says that he’s excited to get a buddy, “someone to compare notes with.” From what it looks like, Neuralink’s first human trial is going well. However, we’d have to wait and see how the subsequent trials go, which will determine whether the experiment can become a widely available solution for people suffering from full-body paralysis.

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Shikhar MehrotraShikhar Mehrotra
A tech enthusiast at heart, Shikhar Mehrotra has been writing news since college for an undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. Over the last four years, he has worked with several national and international publications, including Republic World, and ScreenRant, writing news, how-to explainers, smartphone comparisons, reviews, and list-type articles. When he is not working, Shikhar likes to click pictures, make videos for his YouTube channel, and watch the American sitcom Friends.

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