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Watch Neuralink’s First Human Subject Demonstrate His Brain-Computer Interface

On Wednesday, Neuralink introduced the first human subject to receive the company’s brain implant, a 29-year-old man who has been paralyzed from the shoulders down for eight years after a diving accident.

In a brief livestream on the social media platform X, the man introduced himself as Noland Arbaugh and said he’s able to play online chess and the video game Civilization using the Neuralink device. “If y’all can see the cursor moving around the screen, that’s all me,” he said during the livestream as he moved a digital chess piece. “It's pretty cool, huh?”

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Neuralink, which was cofounded in 2016 by billionaire Elon Musk, is developing a system known as a brain-computer interface, which decodes movement intention from brain signals. The company’s initial goal is to allow paralyzed people to control a cursor or keyboard using just their thoughts.

In the livestream, Arbaugh describes learning how to use the brain-computer interface. “I would attempt to move, say, my right hand left, right, forward, back, and from there I think it just became intuitive for me to start imagining the cursor moving,” he said. While the livestream contained relatively few details, a Neuralink engineer said in the video that more information would be released in the coming days.

Arbaugh added that he feels lucky to be part of the Neuralink study: “I just can’t even describe how cool it is to be able to do this.”

The company received a green light from the US Food and Drug Administration last year to move ahead with an initial human trial and began recruiting paralyzed participants in the fall to test the device.

Until now, Neuralink has revealed few details about the progress of that study. In an X post in January, Musk announced that the first human subject had received Neuralink’s implant and was “recovering well.” In February he said that the person had recovered and was able to control a computer mouse using their thoughts.

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“Progress is good, and the patient seems to have made a full recovery, with no ill effects that we are aware of,” Musk said on February 19 in a Spaces audio conversation on X, in response to a question about the participant’s condition. The “patient is able to move a mouse around the screen just by thinking,” he added.

Neuralink’s device is implanted in the brain using a surgical robot the company developed; it is cosmetically invisible once in place. The company has designed software that analyzes brain signals and translates them into output commands to control external devices.

Some neuroscientists and ethicists have criticized Neuralink’s previous lack of transparency around the trial. What’s publicly known about Neuralink’s study comes from social media posts and a brief brochure the company published last year.

Neuralink has not revealed the number of subjects that will be enrolled in the study, the trial site, or outcomes that will be assessed. And the company has not registered on ClinicalTrials.gov, a government repository that contains information on medical studies involving human subjects. The company has also faced controversy over the alleged treatment of animals used in its research. A WIRED investigation last year detailed how some of its monkeys died as a result of the company’s brain implant testing.

Arbaugh seemingly addressed the safety concerns surrounding the device. “I think, like, there's nothing to be afraid of,” he said. “The surgery was super easy. I literally was released from the hospital a day later.” He said he has no cognitive impairments following the surgery.

Several other companies are racing to commercialize brain-computer interfaces. One competitor, Synchron, is developing a stent-like device that is inserted into the jugular vein and pushed up so that it lays against the brain. The New York–based company implanted its first subject in 2019 and since has shown that the device is safe and has enabled people with paralysis to browse the web and do online shopping and banking. The FDA hasn’t approved any BCI yet; they are all still experimental.

Arbaugh acknowledged that he has run into some issues using the device. “I don’t want people to think that this is the end of the journey. There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said. “But it has already changed my life.”

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