First Human Patient to Receive a Neuralink Brain Implant Used it to Stay Up All Night Playing Civilization 6
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First Human Patient to Receive a Neuralink Brain Implant Used it to Stay Up All Night Playing Civilization 6



The first human recipient of a Neuralink brain implant has shared new details on his recovery and experience of living with the experimental assistive tech, which has allowed him a greater level of freedom and autonomy, including the ability to pull an all-nighter playing Sid Meier’s Civilization 6.

Neuralink co-founder Elon Musk took to X/Twitter in January to reveal that the company had implanted its first brain-computer interface in the head of a human patient, who was “recovering well” following the surgery. The billionaire also hinted at the time that the implant was functioning well and had detected a “promising neuron spike”. In a subsequent February update, Musk commented that the unnamed patient had seemingly made a full recovery, and was even able to use the implant to manipulate a computer cursor with thought alone.

Finally, on March 20, Neuralink posted its own update to X in the form of a nine-minute livestream in which 29-year-old implant recipient Noland Arbaugh used the technology to play a digital version of chess, while discussing how living with the experimental aide had changed his life.

“It was like using the force on the curser, and I could get it to move wherever I wanted, just stare somewhere at the screen, and it would move where I wanted it to, which was such a wild experience,” explained Arbaugh. The 29-year-old complete quadriplegic shared that he had lost sensation and suffered paralysis from below the shoulders after sustaining a spinal injury during a diving accident eight years ago, and had felt compelled to volunteer for the trial out of an urge to be a part of something that he felt “could change the world”.

Throughout the livestream, Arbaugh could be seen using the Neuralink brain-computer interface (BCI) to control an on-screen cursor to play a game of digital chess, and pause music that had been playing in the background. Arbaugh also revealed that the implant had given him the freedom to pull an all-nighter playing the strategy game Sid Meier’s Civilization 6 – something that he could not have done on his own before the surgery.

“One of the first times you all gave me complete control over this [Neuralink tech], I actually stayed up until […] like 6am playing Civilization 6,” said Arbaugh to Neuralink scientist Bliss Chapman. “It was worth it, I think is the best way to put it, it was awesome.”

Arbaugh explained that he had largely given up on playing Civilization 6 prior to having the surgery, as he needed ”complete help” from a friend in order to play, and the time intensive nature of the game had made prolonged play sessions untenable.

“So it wasn’t feasible for me to play a full game or anything,” explained Arbaugh. “Now I can literally just lie in bed and play to my heart’s content. Honestly the biggest restriction at this point was having to wait for the implant to charge once I had used all of it.”

The 29-year-old also revealed in a subsequent Neuralink presentation posted to X that the implant had allowed him to play Mario Kart 8: Deluxe using the neural signals decoded by the BCI tech. “Playing Mario Kart and coming in second repeatedly blew my mind, I didn’t think that would be possible like […] a week in to using it, that was freaking wild. Even though my dad and my buddy wouldn’t let me win,” said Arbaugh.

The implant has also helped Nolan to begin learning French and Japanese, and has generally removed barriers when it comes to reading. He has also emphasised that he had suffered no “cognitive impairments” as a result of the procedure, and that he was able to leave the hospital a day after undergoing the two-hour surgical procedure.

“It’s not perfect, I would say that we have run in to some issues,” commented the 29-year-old. “I don’t want people to think this is the end of the journey, there is still a lot of work to be done, but it has already changed my life…”

Soon after Neuralink posted the video, Musk took to X to re-emphasise his ambitious long-term plan for the technology. The billionaire hopes to eventually use the implants to ‘shunt’ signals directly from a patient’s motor cortex to the relevant part of the body in order to bypass sections of damaged spine, and restore mobility lost to paralysis. Neuralink has also discussed the possibility of using implants to stimulate regions of the brain in order to help blind patients to see with the aid of cameras.

Neuralink was founded by Elon Musk and a handful of scientists and engineers in 2016 with a goal to create a brain-computer interface (BCI), that could one day be used to “restore autonomy to those with unmet medical needs”.

In order to use the interface, a patient would have to undergo an invasive procedure performed by a surgical robot, in which a circular section of the skull is cut away to make room for an implant. During the operation, a collection of ultra-thin electrode-carrying threads are inserted into key areas of the brain, where they record neural activity then transmitted via the implant to a Neuralink Application, which decodes the data into executable actions such as an order to move a computer cursor to a designated point.

The company has attracted significant controversy in recent years owing to concerns surrounding the treatment of animals used in its pre-human trials. A December 2022 Reuters report citing official documents and interviews with over 20 past and present Neuralink employees, stated that the company’s experiments had led to the deaths of over 1,500 animals – including monkeys, pigs, and sheep – since 2018.

It is not uncommon for animals used in healthcare trials to be euthanized at the end of a study. However, according to Reuters’ sources, pressure from Musk, who was allegedly frustrated by the company’s apparent lack of progress, had reportedly caused Neuralink scientists to adopt a rushed approach to some surgeries, which in turn allegedly led to avoidable mistakes being made that caused needless death and suffering for the animals involved.

According to the Reuters article, Neuralink was under federal investigation at the time by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Inspector General for potential animal welfare violations. Later in 2023, Neuralink came under fire once again, this time for allegedly transporting contaminated implants used in animal experiments in an unsafe manner that could constitute a hazard to humans.

Neuralink has responded to criticisms by repeatedly stressing its commitment to ethical and humane animal trials, and has posted a slew of blogs highlighting positive aspects of its animal care program. In a January 2023 letter to lawmakers viewed by Reuters, the head of the USDA stated that a seperate “focused” inspection had found no compliance breaches of U.S. law when it came to Neuralink’s animal trials.

Those findings were later criticised by the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which accused the USDA of giving Neuralink a “free pass” for violations of the Animal Welfare Act, particularly in regard to two incidents in which scientists used an adhesive called BioGlue to seal holes drilled in the heads of rhesus macaques, with fatal consequences.

Neuralink subsequently announced in September 2023 that it had opened up for its first human clinical trial, known as the Precise Robotically Implanted Brain-Computer Interface (PRIME) study. Noland Arbaugh, who was known as P1 prior to having his identity revealed earlier this month, was selected as the first participant.

Anthony is a freelance contributor covering science and video gaming news for IGN. He has over eight years experience of covering breaking developments in multiple scientific fields and absolutely no time for your shenanigans. Follow him on Twitter @BeardConGamer





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