Musk’s brain-computer interface company’s first “user”: 80% of devices have fallen off and life has been subverted

Looking at his mother, the first words Noland Arbaugh said after waking up from Neuralink surgery were:

Who are you?

I don't know this person.

Mother Mia Neely burst into tears immediately and turned around to go find a doctor.

Then she saw her son actually snickering. Noland said that he had already thought of this "joke" before the surgery:

I wanted to let her know everything was okay and lighten the mood.

Two months later, Neuralink introduced Noland to the world in a short live broadcast in which he smiled and chatted with staff while playing chess with others online.

From that moment on, he became the most watched "cyborg" in the world.

What few people know is that by that time, most of the signal-receiving needles of the Neuralink N1 implanted in Noland's brain had fallen off.

Even so, his performance still amazed everyone.

Recently, Noland was interviewed by a number of mainstream American media and shared his experience of becoming the first human subject of Neuralink brain-computer interface, providing a unique perspective for us to understand the potential impact of this technology.

Accidents always come sooner than expected

Noland is the kind of kid who is free to explore, and accidents are frequent.

He has been fond of sports and playing chess since he was a child. When he was studying, he often skipped class to do what he liked. He would only show up on test days and get good grades.

After going to college, he studied political science and international studies at Texas A&M University. He still loved to skip classes to work as a bartender and play with friends, leading a free life:

Ultimately I want to travel, become a wandering gypsy, and try to do nothing.

An accident in 2016 put an end to everything.

Noland, 22, went to an artificial lake with friends when an accident left him a quadriplegic, losing all movement from the shoulders down. He had to learn to live in an electric wheelchair, and to use electronic devices he mainly relied on poking his iPad with a stick in his mouth.

His family and friends are supportive, but he doesn't want to be a burden to others.

He still wants to find a job for himself, but even typing with a stick on his iPad is slow: "It's hard for me to do more. I've tried other things, but I just can't do it."

Although Noland feels that he will basically live with his parents for the rest of his life, as long as they are willing, he still studies mathematics, science and foreign languages, and also listens to e-books. "I decided that I still want to create some meaning with my life."

Last September, Noland's good friend Greg Bain told him that Neuralink was recruiting subjects. The company wanted to implant brain-computer interface devices to allow paralyzed people to control computers with their "thinking."

I was like, "This sounds cool."

▲ The Neuralink team signed the model of Noland’s brain made by the company and gave it to him as a souvenir.

Next, Bain assisted Noland in signing up and filling out the questionnaire, explaining Noland's condition, athletic ability, whether he smoked and drank, and other health and medical conditions.

As everyone knows, Noland became Neuralink's first N1 brain-computer interface subject.

The surgery went smoothly and took less than two hours.

If there was anything that really deviated from the plan, it was that he failed to meet with Musk as scheduled before the operation. There was something wrong with the latter's private jet, and the two ended up having a FaceTime video call before the operation.

In the first few weeks after surgery, Neuralink's team will be at Noland's home to help him practice using the N1 – allowing the software to identify what his specific brain signals mean when he intends to take action.

Noland is also very up to date.

In previous studies, BCI users generally took a break after using the device for 2-4 hours, because it was very physically and mentally taxing on the patient. The Noland can be used for ten hours at a time. On the first day of testing, Noland used N1 to break the previous record for brain-computer interface control speed.

▲ Control testing done by Noland

More importantly, after using N1, Noland can control the computer even while lying down, without having to sit all the time and put too much pressure on the body. Of course, you don’t have to worry about the stick you’re holding in your mouth falling off.

Just when it was natural and effortless to control the cursor with the brain, an accident happened again.

After practicing for about a month, Noland noticed that the accuracy of the cursor was decreasing and there was even a delay.

After inspection by the Neuralink team, they found that 85% of the 64 needles on N1, which are thinner than a human hair and covered with 1,024 electrodes and used to record neural activity, have been displaced . This means that the brain information that N1 can collect is also reduced, so the control is not as sensitive as before.

Before this, Neuralink had never encountered such large-scale movement in animal testing. It is said that the extent of Noland's brain movement was far beyond Neuralink's imagination. From a certain perspective, this is also the meaning of human trials.

However, from Noland's personal perspective, all this is extremely heavy. He once thought that Neuralink would ignore this problem and go directly to the next subject.

I was so happy before and then hit rock bottom again. That was really, really hard to accept…I cried.

WSJ cited people familiar with the matter as saying that Neuralink had also considered spinning off N1.

Fortunately, Neuralink finally adjusted the software's algorithm, and Noland returned to the state of continuing to refresh the brain-computer interface control speed record.

To avoid the same situation happening in new human trials, Neuralink will adjust the surgical process to implant the wires of the brain-computer interface device 8 mm deep into the brain's motor cortex. In comparison, Noland's implant depth is 3-5 mm.

"We all want to see you well"

According to the agreement between Noland and Neuralink, Noland will keep the device, which was implanted in January this year, in the brain for a year to collect data and research. What happens after that will have to be decided through negotiation between the two parties at that time.

By now, the journey is nearly halfway over.

Noland seems to be the best spokesperson for Neuralink.

We first learned about Noland because we were paying attention to Neuralink and brain-computer interface technology. We hope it works, and therefore hope Noland will be better.

Now, Noland himself has become an object of attention and affection for his optimism, humor and sincerity.

On March 23, Noland first tweeted on X via N1:

Twitter banned my account before because it thought I was a robot. Now, X and Musk have unblocked my account because they know I am a (robot).

Although there are not many updates, Noland's X account now has 94,000 followers.

He will also share photos on X cosplaying "X-Men" with his friends. Of course, Noland's cosplay is "Professor X".

He will also find the courage to show his vulnerability and confusion.

For example, I asked for advice from netizens on

In the interview, he would also admit that he hopes to be independent because his younger brother has taken care of him for eight years. "He should live his own life."

Recently, Noland also completed a live broadcast independently for the first time to introduce to everyone how he usually "surfs". During the process, Noland mentioned from time to time that he was not used to talking to himself like this. He hoped that netizens would forgive him for not doing well enough, and said that he would learn more and do better.

These sharings will also strengthen the connection between the public and Noland. From people paying attention to Noland because of Neuralink, they may become more hopeful that Neuralink will succeed because of Noland. As one netizen left a message under Noland’s X:

Many of us want to see you flourish.

If you can do it, it will show others that it is possible.

▲ The background "evolution picture" of Noland's account homepage was also created for him by netizens

Noland shared in the interview that he named the N1 in his brain "Eve" because he felt that it was the helper given to him by God. He believes that God arranged all this to happen partly because he wanted him to contribute to the development of this technology and contribute to the future of more people.

▲ Noland shared Neuralink’s software interface during the live broadcast, and we also saw “Eve”

Just as acquiring Eve is "passive", Noland's future is also very passive. Everything depends on the outcome of negotiations between Neuralink and him in the future.

We have also introduced in previous articles that many patients who received implants in the past were forced to have their implants removed due to problems with the company that produced the device.

Losing (it) was like losing something very precious and close to me that can never be replaced.

It's part of me.

Noland also described the feeling of having his life subverted after installing a brain-computer interface:

Once you try using it, you won't be able to stop.

Marcello Ienca, an ethicist at the Technical University of Munich, believes that this is a violation of human rights, a violation of human rights that has not yet been understood and discussed:

Being forced to remove the device stripped her of the new identity she had developed with technology.

The company had a hand in creating this whole new person…and once the device is removed, that person is terminated.

According to Neuralink's plan, this year's goal is to install N1 on ten subjects to see what happens when different people use it.

Noland certainly hopes that he can keep N1, but more optimistically, he also hopes that Neuralink can replace him with a new version in the future.

He will actively express his hopes and visions for the future, and hopes to become a part of Neuralink's future :

At a Neuralink conference, I said that if I could have a Tesla Optimus robot, and then control it with my brain and let it help me with most things, it would probably eliminate 90% of the tasks that I need help from others. .

It would also be cool if I could connect to a Tesla. After all, Tesla can already drive itself. I just need to find a way to get in and enter a destination.

Back in the present, all Noland can do is keep training.

Recently, he has been practicing using Eve to write with the cursor.

This is the first stage of text recognition training for Neuralink software. The goal is that Eve can output the entire sentence to Noland whenever he thinks of it. Noland had always wanted to be a fantasy novelist and wanted to write a novel of his own.

In his "spare" time, he continues to think of ways to earn income for himself.

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