First User of Elon Musk’s Neuralink Reveal Experience of Living With Brain Chip

Neuralink Living With Brain Chip
1st Neuralink user living with a brain chip shares his experience. Credit: ApolitikNow / Flickr / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Noland Arbaugh, a 30-year-old from Arizona, has a computer chip in his skull and electrodes in his brain. He was the first to try out Neuralink, a brain-computer interface (BCI). Arbaugh says he wouldn’t have noticed the hardware if he had not remembered the surgery.

“If I had lost my memory, and I woke up, and you told me there was something implanted in my brain, then I probably wouldn’t believe you,” says the 30-year-old Arizona resident, who has been paralyzed from the neck down since a 2016 swimming accident.

“I have no sensation of it—no way of telling it’s there unless someone goes and physically pushes on it,” he says.

Neuralink can improve the lives of people with quadriplegia

The Neuralink chip might not seem like much, but for Arbaugh, it’s been life-changing, helping him “reconnect with the world.” In January, he had robotic surgery to get the N1 Implant, also known as “the Link,” as part of Neuralink’s first human trial.

Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) have been around for a long time. However, because Elon Musk, a billionaire tech CEO, owns Neuralink, the company receives immense attention.

This brings renewed interest in technology that could substantially improve the lives of people with conditions such as quadriplegia—just like Arbaugh—as well as those with other disabilities or brain diseases, according to Live Science.

Neuralink gives updates on their Patient they implanted with a brain chip.

“Neuralink has helped me reconnect with the world, my friends, and my family. It’s given me the ability to do things on my own again without needing my family”

-Noland Arbaugh.

— SMX 🇺🇸 (@iam_smx) May 8, 2024

BCIs work by recording electrical signals in the brain and turning them into actions like moving a robotic hand or clicking a mouse. They are of various types. Some are more invasive than others, and they vary in how much detail they can pick up.

Some BCIs use external electroencephalogram (EEG) arrays placed on the head to detect brain activity. Others have electrodes placed on the surface of the brain to track the signals.

Intracortical device with electrodes implanted in the brain

Neuralink’s implant is one of the intracortical devices that have electrodes implanted right into the brain tissue to get as close as possible to the neurons they’re targeting.

Douglas Weber, a mechanical engineer, and neuroscientist at Carnegie Mellon University, compares capturing neural activity to recording conversations in a crowded stadium: to hear what someone is saying, you have to get close to them.

“The farther away from the speaker you are, the more mixed and muddled the conversations become,” he explains.

Neuralink tackles this by threading electrodes into the brain’s motor cortex. Sensors are placed right next to the individual neurons doing the talking.

Neuralink is not necessarily the pioneer in this field. There is a device called the Utah Array, which is the go-to electrode system for intracortical BCIs. It is a small grid of silicon spikes that has been used for a while now, according to Live Science.

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