‘A number of threads retracted from the brain’ of Neuralink’s first implant patient, but they say they’re still ‘beating my friends in games that as a quadriplegic I should not be beating them in’

Neuralink patient, Noland Arbaugh, has now been in possession of the first Link brain implant for just over 100 days, as the study into the practical application of the device continues—and while the results so far seem promising, it’s not been without its setbacks.

In a progress update on the Neuralink blog, the company has revealed that, in the weeks following the surgery to implant a computer interface directly into Arbaugh’s brain, several of the ultra-fine “threads” used to transmit signals had retracted, resulting in a decrease of the number of effective electrodes used to create a connection between the two.

Neuralink says that while this led to a reduction in BPS, or bits-per-second transmissions between the brain and the chip itself, some modification of the recording algorithm in regards to its sensitivity to neural signals meant that the performance of the device was actually improved over previous versions.

Arbaugh had previously spoken about the improvement that the implant had made to his life, enabling him to play games like Civilisation VI and computer-based chess by controlling a cursor on screen with the power of his mind. Despite the setback, according to Arbaugh his gaming abilities may actually be better now than they were when he first started using the device.

“I thought that the mouth stick was a lot better than BCI (brain-computer interface) a month ago, 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.”

Neuralink says that its current work is focused on pushing cursor control performance to the same level as that of able-bodied individuals, and if Arbaugh’s experiences are anything to go by it looks like that goal may already have been achieved, at least compared to some. 

His outlook seems to remain immensely positive, and while any sort of fringe technology—particularly one involving the surgical alteration of the human brain—should be expected to experience some setbacks, the potential benefit for those who have lost the use of their limbs appears to be life-changing.

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