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Neuralink reveals first human trial patient, a 29-year-old quadriplegic who says brain chip is 'not perfect' but has changed his life

Lloyd Lee   

Neuralink reveals first human trial patient, a 29-year-old quadriplegic who says brain chip is 'not perfect' but has changed his life
  • Neuralink is Elon Musk's neural technology company that has been working on brain-chip implants.
  • Musk announced in January that the company implanted a chip into its first human patient.

Neuralink, Elon Musk's neural technology company, revealed during a livestream on Wednesday that its first human patient to have received a brain-chip implant is a 29-year-old man who became a quadriplegic after a serious diving accident about eight years ago.

The patient, Noland Arbaugh, said during the stream, which was cast on Musk's social media company X, that the chip was "not perfect" but it had already added many improvements to his life, giving him the ability to play video games for hours on end without having to rely on his family members.

"It's not perfect. I would say we have run into some issues. I don't want people to think that this is the end of the journey. There's a lot of work to be done, but it has already changed my life," Arbaugh said, speaking next to Bliss Chapman, an engineer at Neuralink.

Neuralink, which was launched in 2016, has been working on a chip implant that could allow people to control computers with their brains.

Musk first announced in January that Neuralink had implanted one of its chips into a human for the first time, following several years of tests conducted on monkeys.

Those animal experiments had been the subject of scrutiny after the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a medical ethics group, accused the company of putting the monkeys through "extreme suffering as a result of inadequate animal care and the highly invasive experimental head implants during the experiments."

PCRM asked the US regulators to investigate Musk for securities fraud after claiming in an X post that "no monkey has died as a result of a Neuralink implant." Musk later claimed that Neuralink's facilities were like "monkey paradise."

PCRM alleged in a letter to the SEC that "Musk knows that to be false." It has not been disclosed yet if the SEC will be investigating Neuralink.

For now, the company has moved on to human trials.

During the livestream on Wednesday, Arbaugh could be seen using a specialized chair, sitting in front of a laptop.

Arbaugh appeared to be controlling a game of chess while his hands remained on the armrests of his chair.

"I love playing chess and so this is one of the things that ya'll have enabled me to do — something that I wasn't able to really do much the last few years, especially not like this," he said. "I had to use a mouse stick and stuff, but now it's all being done with my brain."

Arbaugh said that he had dislocated parts of his spinal cord in a "freak diving accident" about eight years ago that left him paralyzed from below the shoulders.

His condition limited his ability to play his favorite video game Civilization VI because he could only play a few hours at a time before he would need help from his family to readjust his seated position.

"I had basically given up on playing that game," he said, adding that it's a "big game" that requires a lot of time sitting still. "I have to worry about a lot of things — getting pressure sores and things like that. So I just wasn't really able to play it as much as I wanted to."

With the chip, Arbaugh said he has been able to play the video game for several hours while lying in his bed.

Arbaugh noted that the "biggest restriction" so far was having to charge the implant again after going on a several-hours streak of playing video games.

"So play for eight hours, have to get off and let it charge for a while and then hopefully be able to play some more," he said.

Arbaugh said that controlling Neuralink soon became "intuitive," and that to move the computer cursor, for example, he only needed to imagine the cursor moving.

"Basically it was like using the force on a cursor," he said.

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