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Neuralink Patient’s Implants Slipped Out, But He Still Set a Brain Control Record

There was good news and bad news out of brain-computer interface company Neuralink, as the neurotechnology firm—co-founded by Elon Musk—marked 100 days since human tests began on its technology. Specifically, tests with one human subject: Noland Arbaugh, a quadriplegic man from Arizona.

Arbaugh had the company’s first-generation N1 Link device surgically implanted in January, and was able to go home the next day. Extensive testing followed, but the company reported in a progress update today that some of the ultra-thin electrodes inserted into his brain ”retracted,” reducing the amount of information—measured in bits-per-second (BPS)—being transmitted.

“In response to this change, we modified the recording algorithm to be more sensitive to neural population signals, improved the techniques to translate these signals into cursor movements, and enhanced the user interface,” Neuralink wrote. “These refinements produced a rapid and sustained improvement in BPS that has now superseded Noland’s initial performance.”

The intracortical implant consists of 1,024 electrodes in 64 flexible leads, or “threads,” each thinner than a human hair.

We’ve just passed 100 days since the first participant in our clinical trial received his Neuralink implant. Read our latest progress update here: https://t.co/7lckGYCK1H

— Neuralink (@neuralink) May 8, 2024

Despite the setback, Neuralink said Arbauch has since been able to set a new brain control world record.

Arbaugh achieved human brain-computer interface (BCI) cursor control of 4.6 BPS, the company said, which surpassed the best results previously documented by researchers. He went on to achieve 8.0 BPS, and is currently trying to beat a Neuralink engineer’s score using a mouse of 10 BPS, the company said.

Neuralink began working with Arbaugh after receiving the green light for human testing from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in September. In its Wednesday update,tThe company outlined various ways the implant allowed the patient to interact with computers.

“In the weeks since his surgery, Noland has used the Link to control his laptop from various positions, including while lying down in bed,” Neuralink said. “He plays online computer games with friends (Chess, Civilization VI), browses the internet, live streams, and uses other applications on his MacBook, all by controlling a cursor with his mind.”

Arbaugh also used the link to play Mario Kart on a Nintendo Switch, something he hasn’t been able to do since his spinal cord injury. But it wasn’t all fun and games.

“Noland contributes to research sessions for up to 8 hours per day,” the company noted. “On weekends, personal use and recreation can exceed 10 hours per day, [andrecently, he used the device for a total of 69 hours in a single week: 35 hours of structured sessions and an additional 34 hours of personal use.”

Arbaugh said that he has come to find the N1 Link superior to the way he used to control a cursor on a computer screen, which Neuralink described as “a mouth-held tablet stylus (mouth stick) that had to be put in place by a caregiver.”

“I thought that the mouth stick was a lot better than BCI a month ago,” Arbaugh said in the update. “When we compared them, I saw that BCI was just as good if not better, and it’s still improving—the games I can play now are leaps and bounds better than previous ones.”

“I’m beating my friends in games that, as a quadriplegic, I should not be beating them in,” he added.

Last week, Arbaugh hosted a livestream on Twitter where he demonstrated Neuralink technology in action.

What’s on my mind? https://t.co/hq4n2Ep0BL

— Noland Arbaugh (@ModdedQuad) May 5, 2024

“I think it should give a lot of people a lot of hope for what this thing can do for them, first and foremost their gaming experience, but then that’ll translate into so much more—and I think that’s awesome,” Arbaugh said.

Edited by Ryan Ozawa.

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