The patient’s Neuralink implants went away, but he still set a record for brain control

There has been good news and bad news from brain-computer interface company Neuralink, as the neurotechnology company, co-founded by Elon Musk, marked 100 days since it began human testing of its technology. Specifically, testing with a 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 return home the next day. Extensive testing followed, but the company reported today in a progress update that some of the ultra-thin electrodes inserted into his brain had “retracted,” reducing the amount of information, measured in bits per second (BPS), transmitted.

“In response to this change, we modified the recording algorithm to make it more sensitive to neural population signals, improved techniques for translating these signals into cursor movements, and improved the user interface,” Neuralink wrote. “These improvements have produced a rapid and sustained improvement in BPS that has now surpassed Noland’s initial performance.”

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

It has just been 100 days since the first participant in our clinical trial received his Neuralink implant. Read our latest progress update here:

– Neuralink (@neuralink) May 8, 2024

Despite the setback, Neuralink said Arbauch managed to set a new world record for brain control.

Arbaugh achieved human brain-computer interface (BCI) cursor control of 4.6 BPS, the company said, surpassing 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 10 BPS mouse, 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 update on Wednesday, the company outlined various ways the implant allowed patients to interact with computers.

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

Arbaugh also used the link to play Mario Kart on the Nintendo Switch, something he was unable to do after 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 enjoyment may exceed 10 hours per day,[andrecentlyheusedthedevicefortotatalof69hoursinoneweek:35hoursofstructuredsessionsandadditional34hoursofpersonaluse”[erecentementehautilizzatoildispositivoperuntotaledi69oreinunasolasettimana:35oredisessionistrutturateealtre34orediusopersonale”[andrecentlyheusedthedeviceforatotalof69hoursinasingleweek:35hoursofstructuredsessionsandanadditional34hoursofpersonaluse”

Arbaugh said he came to find the N1 Link superior to the way he controlled the cursor on a computer screen, which Neuralink described as “a mouth-held tablet stylus (mouth stick) that needed to be positioned by a caregiver.”

“I thought the mouth stick was much better than the 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 getting better – the games I can play now are definitely better than before.”

“I’m beating my friends in games that, being a quadriplegic, I shouldn’t be beating them in,” he added.

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

What’s on my mind?

— 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 for their gaming experience, but then this will translate into so much more, and I think that’s fantastic,” Arbaugh said.

By Ryan Ozawa.

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