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I'm the first person to receive Neuralink's brain-chip implant. Here's how it's helped me reconnect with the world.

Jyoti Mann   

I'm the first person to receive Neuralink's brain-chip implant. Here's how it's helped me reconnect with the world.
  • Noland Arbaugh is the first human to receive Neuralink's brain-chip implant.
  • The 29-year-old quadriplegic spoke with Business Insider about how it had impacted his life.

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Noland Arbaugh, Neuralink's first human patient to receive its brain-chip implant. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I wasn't scared going into the surgery to get Neuralink's implant inserted in January.

I was at peace with it all; it had much to do with my faith in God. I knew that whatever was to come was God's plan for my life, and that really put me at ease.

I also had complete faith in the teams working on this, including the surgical staff and nurses. They were all excellent people in their fields, and all my questions were very well answered.

There were a lot of risks involved, especially being the first to have it. The one thing I was worried about was getting brain damage. That was the one thing that gave me a bit of a pause beforehand. I told my parents that if I became mentally handicapped, I wouldn't want them to take care of me anymore and to put me in an assisted care home. That was probably the hardest thing I had to prepare for.

The idea of giving up the implant was really hard

About a month after I got it, some of the device's wires, or threads, retracted from my brain. This was not Neuralink's fault. There is not a lot of literature or studies about the subject and how much the brain moves when it pulses.

The team talked to a lot of brain surgeons and came to the conclusion that the brain moves about a millimeter. Then, after they implanted it in my brain, they found that it moved three millimeters, which is three times as much as what they had expected. The components and threads that they built weren't intended to take on that kind of load, which caused them to retract a bit.

When I found out what happened, my initial response was to ask if they wanted to go in, remove it, and insert a new one, but they told me they weren't considering it at the time. They wanted to see if they could work around what happened in the software, which they ended up doing instead of fixing it through another surgery. They handled it really well.

It didn't physically hurt, and it wasn't dangerous. But it hurt emotionally because I thought that I wasn't going to be able to use the device anymore. I was just down in the dumps for a few days, but I tend to roll with the punches. It took me a few days, but I came around.

I use the implant to interact with people on social media

I've been using it to message people on X, use Instagram, reply to emails, play fantasy sports, read comics online, and access a site I use to learn Japanese. I also used it to book a hotel for when I visited Neuralink's headquarters.

One time I fell asleep while using it, and the cursor still moves when I'm asleep and still clicks stuff. I fell asleep for about five minutes and when I woke up, there were around 10 different applications open on the computer. You can turn the cursor off so that doesn't happen, but I didn't on this occasion.

The device connects to my computer using Bluetooth, and there's a Neuralink app that allows the implant to access the computer, so I can connect and disconnect from it at will.

Sometimes, I start my day at 7 a.m. and use the implant until 11 p.m. I know it's a long day, but it's fun for me, so it doesn't really feel like work.

I have study sessions with a brain-computer interface team in Maryland for four to eight hours a day. Outside those, I have structured sessions where I have personal time to use the device.

This helps us learn things that the researchers otherwise wouldn't, like different ways in which it doesn't quite work as intended. It can be a bug in the software, for example, that they need to address, which helps to make it better.

It's improved my quality of life

It's allowed me to reconnect with the world, my friends, and my family. It's made me a better texter and more capable of interacting with people such as on social media.

One of the big things about being a quadriplegic is just how powerless you are, and so I wanted to take back as much control as I could.

There were times in the days after my accident in 2016 that led to a spinal-cord injury when I didn't want to do anything, where I was sad, and I was like, 'This sucks.' I didn't know what I was doing for a few months and didn't feel like I was being very productive.

But I've always been the kind of person who accepts what is and finds a way to move forward, and that's exactly what I did. I didn't wallow so much as I looked forward and thought, 'How can I make my life better? How can I improve my life even a little bit today?' That helps a lot. It gives me a drive and a purpose.

The two-year mark after my accident was pretty hard. They say after two years, you won't recover any more movement or sensation, and that's basically what you're going to be left with for the rest of your life. It was hard for a day or two, and then I moved on.

The implant has definitely given me more purpose when I get up, and I feel I'm doing meaningful work. I feel like what I'm doing every day is going to affect people forever after this, and that's enough to keep me going all the time.

Since getting Neuralink's implant inserted in January, the quality of my life has improved significantly. Since my accident, finding different ways to stay productive has been an uphill battle. The device has ultimately allowed me to become more independent.

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